________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 19 . . . . January 23, 2015



Amy Bright.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2014.
215 pp., trade pbk., ePub & PDF, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-88995-513-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55244-331-6 (ePub), ISBN 978-1-55244-332-3 (PDF).

Subject Headings:
Teenagers-Conduct of life-Juvenile fiction.
Teenagers-Substance abuse-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.

Review by Stephanie Johnson.

***1/2 / 4


At the end of August, when I told Mom and Dad that I wasn’t going back to school, Dad decided I was going to live with his sister, my Aunt Lynne, in Alberta. A province away. I didn’t even complain. I just let Mom do my packing for me. I let Dad drive me through the mountains. I let Aunt Lynne set up everything for me in that new place. I let everything happen.

Why would I want to stay in Victoria, where the ocean that had swallowed Niall waved at me from every direction?


Hunter, 17, finds himself on a Greyhound bus heading rapidly towards his dreaded hometown of Victoria, accompanied by his ex-girlfriend and a 12-year-old girl named Poppy. Months ago, Hunter was shipped off to Lethbridge to stay with his aunt, and he has been in isolation from everyone in his past life in Victoria, both an imposed and a self-inflicted choice. As the story flashes back in Hunter’s life, readers begin to see a picture emerge of what occurred to instill such indifference in his own life and dread towards going back to Victoria.

     The first chapter begins with a lot of unknowns. Readers don’t know who the characters are, whether the “I” is a male or female, why these three people are all on the bus together, and why there is such a palpable tension in the air. It takes at least a few chapters to get a feel for the style of the writing which is, at first, difficult to read, especially as each chapter jumps around in time, but once readers deal with the fact that they are purposefully being kept in suspense, then the story can really begin to flow. After a while, readers will tend to not even notice the slips through time and will simply begin to fill in the holes in Hunter’s character. The suspense is charged with emotion, so much so that readers will feel their own emotions starting to get affected by what is happening in the book. While the suspense builds at quite a smooth pace, it is not enough to give away the entire plot, but it is just enough to keep readers hooked on reading further.

     One of the most notable characteristics of this novel is the focus on character. Hunter is a sympathetic protagonist, and he could easily have come off as whiny and negative, but instead readers will be drawn to his fractured emotions, feel the grief that he feels, and will want to help make his life better. There is a powerful connection created between the reader and the character, and this is maintained throughout the entire novel. There are so many thoughtful moments created that it feels as though you are reading the actual thoughts of Hunter, not an author attempting to think like Hunter. The secondary characters are also very well written, and you simply want more of them. Poppy is an incredibly endearing 12-year-old girl, and, as readers see the healing effect she has on Hunter’s life, they cannot help but hope that their shared connection in grief heals Poppy as well. As the author, herself, says in the back matter of Swimmers, “Poppy and Hunter have both been treading water for a long time. They’ve been working so hard to stay in one place…that they haven’t even worked out how to go forward yet.” Aunt Lynne has a wonderful connection with Hunter. What starts as a rather touch-and-go relationship becomes something strong and unbreakable as Aunt Lynne teaches Hunter to heal by simultaneously giving him space while establishing structure and activity in his life. As these characters become more and more involved in Hunter’s life, readers can feel the mood change in the story. What began as a very dark and ominous mood becomes a positive and uplifting one as Hunter heals throughout the novel.

     The story, itself, deals with big issues that affect youth today: suicide, drugs and depression. While these issues do not visibly take centre stage, they are always lurking in the background, much like they would in someone’s life. This makes the novel come across as more accessible and less daunting as it can be a novel about a troubled youth instead of a novel about suicide and drugs. The setting of the story also lends to its accessibility, at least for Canadian readers, as many places and anecdotes are mentioned that give readers the feeling that they’re involved in the novel because they not only know the places but have possibly been to some of them, such as Golden, BC, and Calgary, AB.

     The only critique that can be placed on this novel is the quick and tidy ending. After the buildup of suspense revolving around Hunter’s return to Victoria, when he actually gets to Victoria, there is not much of a climax. There was so much emotion involved throughout the novel that the ending feels shallow, as though something is missing. Despite this, Swimmers is an amazing novel that can bring hope to many teens experiencing similar issues in their lives. When readers put down this novel, it may be heart-wrenching for them when they realize that Hunter, Poppy and Aunt Lynne have no more to say to them; however, they are characters that will stick with readers forever and their story will hopefully keep speaking to them.

Highly Recommended.

Stephanie Johnson is a graduate of the Master of Library and Information Studies Program from the University of Alberta.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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