September 16, 2011

Theme Throwdown: SWIMMING

Swim the Fly by Don Calame
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

A Theme Throwdown pits two books with similar themes against each other in a totally subjective, non-scientific battle for supremacy. The inaugural TT features swimming, though really both books are ultimately about friendship and varying degrees of sacrifice.

Swim the Fly by Don Calame
Matt Gratton and his two best friends, Sean and Coop, always set themselves a summer-time goal. This year’s? To see a real-live naked girl for the first time. As far as Matt is concerned, they’d have better luck finding the lost city of Atlantis. But seeing a girl in the buff starts to seem like child’s play compared to the other summertime goal Matt sets for himself: to swim the 100-yard butterfly (the hardest stroke known to God or man) in order to impress Kelly West, the hot new girl. So what if he can’t manage a single lap, let alone four? He’s got the whole summer to perfect his technique. What could possibly go wrong? [from Goodreads]
Author: Website | Blog
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release date: 2009
Source / Format: Purchased / Hardcover
Buy it at Powell's, my local independent bookstore

Last summer I went through a boy book phase. I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Spanking Shakespeare, Sprout, Slam, and Swim the Fly all in the matter of a couple of weeks. Never have I understood the mind of a teenage boy so clearly. Believe me, it's a messy place in there. I've tried to pace myself a little better since then.

Swim the Fly is funny. And gross. If you loved American Pie then you'll probably love Matt and his friends and their quest to see a naked female. It had me cringing from embarrassment, gagging at descriptions, and laughing out loud at the predicaments these kids create for themselves during summer swim team.

But it also has a serious message of determination and persistence. Matt really challenges himself and is the better for it. Hardly a better swimmer, but definitely a better person.

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
There's bad news and good news about the Cutter High School swim team. The bad news is that they don't have a pool. The good news is that only one of them can swim anyway.

A group of misfits brought together by T. J. Jones (the J is redundant) to find their places in a school that has no place for them, the Cutter All Night Mermen struggle to carve out their own turf. T. J. is convinced that a varsity letter jacket—unattainable for most, exclusive, revered, the symbol (as far as T. J. is concerned) of all that is screwed up at Cutter High—will be an effective carving tool. He's right. He's also wrong.

Still, it's always the quest that counts. And the bus on which the Mermen travel to swim meets—piloted by Icko, the permanent resident of All, Night Fitness—soon becomes the cocoon inside which they gradually allow themselves to talk, to fit, to bloom. [from Goodreads]

Author: Website
Release date: 2002
Source / Format: Purchased / Kindle e-book
Buy it at Powell's, my local independent bookstore

This was my one and only true boy book for the summer of 2011. I guess I overdosed last year.

Whale Talk was my first Chris Crutcher book, but won't be my last. I was introduced to him when I read a letter he wrote about the book ban faced by one of his novels. He's feisty.

And so are his characters. They are deeply wounded, but also deeply caring. The protagonist, T.J., is smart and athletic; he's fairly popular and has an uncomplicated (monogamous) sexual relationship. That's the surface. Underneath, he's aware of being "other" --one of only a few non-white people in his small Washington town. He's hot-headed and his seemingly-altruistic plan to have his mis-fit swim team all receive letter jackets is at least 50% revenge on the town jocks.

The secondary characters are all well developed. While each is fighting his own demons (and there sure are a lot of demons!), by the end of the novel, there's a sense of peace and acceptance. The climax is a dramatic, unexpected tear-jerk. The wrap-up is sweet and hopeful, but not overly sentimental.

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
Not as laugh-out-loud funny, but Whale Talk has real heart. You can't go wrong with this award winner.

Other books about SWIMMING:

Other books to consider:

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