New Awards

We’re delighted to announce that Trouble the Water was awarded a First Place/ Gold prize for Debut Fiction, and First Place/Gold Prize for Adult Fiction by The Feathered Quill Book Awards.

Here is a novel that succeeds on every level: its world and characters come alive (my favorite character, aside from the protagonist himself, is “Uncle George”); it entertains and the pages turn easily (I read it in 4 sittings, even though it’s over 300 pages long); it defamiliarizes and causes wonderment (as historical fiction does); it is symmetrical without being overwrought, formally tight without feeling forced (the Russian formalists would say that if you have a gun at the start of the story, it will eventually need to go off. Let’s just say that the prologue and the early chapters in this book “go off” by the end). So if you like that sort of thing in your historical fictions, then Trouble the Water should satisfy your readerly instincts. ~ EJ, Charlottesville, VA

I just finished reading Trouble the Water. It kept me turning the pages, one after another. I loved the goodness of the character Robert, his courage and kindness, the complexity of his relationship with the McKees. I loved returning to the low country, and my God, that writing toward the end about the tides: “When the tide is out, all the way out, you can smell creation…” That passage made me breathless.   ~ Robin Oliveira, author of My Name is Mary Sutter

A must-readTrouble the Water is a beautifully-crafted novel inspired by the powerful life of Robert Smalls, a brave American hero who was born into slavery and left us all a tale worth telling. Debut author, Rebecca Bruff, has made her mark with this exceptional examination of family, freedom, and what it really means to fight for the light.   ~ Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Perennials

Rebecca Bruff has told the remarkable story of the life and times of Robert Smalls. Escaped slave, Civil War combat hero and natural political leader of the Sea Island freedmen. Using all available scholarship, the author has created a believable and sensitive portrait of Smalls and the characters, black and white, who created a true American hero. Trouble the Water may become a Carolina classic.   ~ Lawrence S. Rowland, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Univ. of South Carolina Beaufort

In her brilliant new novel, Trouble the Water, Rebecca Dwight Bruff skillfully uncovers an American odyssey, long lost in the camouflage of history.  It is the unlikely journey of Robert Smalls, born a slave in Beaufort, South Carolina.  While suffering the heartache and horrid indignities of chattel slavery, Smalls dreams of freedom for himself and his family.  In what has to be one of the most daring and nail-biting  escapes ever attempted in the low country, Smalls succeeds in changing the lives of many while becoming a Civil War hero and a paragon of civic leadership.  Bruff gifts her readers a stunningly dramatic narrative. Gripping, heartrending and at last, inspirational.  A testimony to hope through the darkest of times and a testimony to the triumph of the human spirit, not soon to be forgotten. Kudos to Rebecca Dwight Bruff!    ~  Jeffrey Blount, award-winning author of two novels,  Almost Snow White, winner of the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and Hating Heidi Foster, winner of the 2013 Readers Favorite Book Award for young adult literature, and Emmy award-winning television director and a 2016 inductee to the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame.


Inspired by the true story of an unsung American hero, Trouble the Water navigates the rich tributaries of courage, family, betrayal, faith, forgiveness, and redemption. In this inspiring, layered, and ultimately satisfying journey, Robert Smalls — born enslaved and witness to both great privilege and great suffering — grows up alongside his owner’s daughter and the dangerous son of a firebrand secessionist. At the age of 12, he’s sent to work in Charleston, where he loads ships and learns to pilot a cotton steamer. When the Civil War erupts and the cotton steamer becomes a confederate warship, he seizes a high-risk opportunity to pursue freedom for himself and the woman and children he loves.

Fans of  My Name is Mary Sutter, Invention of Wings, and Song Yet Sung  will want Trouble the Water to share the bookshelf.