You guys! It is a swimming book! SWIMMING. Let’s take a moment to flail, please!
Okay, we may proceed.
Lou Brown is one of the fastest swimmers in the county. She’s not boasting, she really is. So things are looking pretty rosy the day of the Olympic time-trials. With her best mate Hannah by her side, Lou lines up by the edge of the pool, snaps her goggles on and bends into her dive…
Everything rests on this race. It’s Lou’s thing.
… or it was. She comes dead last and to top it all off Hannah sails through leaving a totally broken Lou behind.
Starting again is never easy, particularly when you’re the odd-one out in a family of insanely beautiful people and a school full of social groups way too intimidating to join. Where do you go from here? Finding a new thing turns out to be the biggest challenge Lou’s ever faced and opens up a whole new world of underwater somersaults, crazy talent shows, bitchy girls and a great big load of awkward boy chat.
Lou Brown guides us through the utter humiliation of failure with honesty, sass and a keen sense of the ridiculous. This girl will not be beaten.
Ah, this book! I am always wary of swimming books, because they don’t always “get it”. Let me assure you, from a swimmer’s point of view, Goldfish “gets it”. Val @ The Innocent Smiley grabbed this one at ALA, and she loved it- and since she was a swimmer also, I trusted her judgment, and rightly so. You can read her review here, and really should, because she related to Lou a lot, whereas they had to drag me sobbing from the pool after college graduation, saying “um, you can’t swim, you don’t go here anymore”.
So yeah, I couldn’t relate exactly to Lou’s quitting the team, but I also thank goodness didn’t have a coach like Lou had. Ever. (Which we’ll get to!)
But she does end up not swimming anymore. Only, when you’re a swimmer who spends approximately 97% of your “free” time in the pool (and the other 3% eating), your whole identity is wrapped up in it. This I can relate to, wholeheartedly. When I was swimming, everything I did revolved around it. My friends were swimmers, we talked swimming, or swimmers from other teams, or whatever, but I feel like I was probably out of touch with the non-swimming world, albeit blissfully so.
So when Lou isn’t a swimmer anymore, I know her sense of loss. I understand the feeling that you don’t belong anymore; that your place in the world is unknown. I know this sounds dramatic, but I assure you, it isn’t. Years later, I spoke to teammates who mourned the loss as much as I did, and I knew that this was a “thing”.
Lou’s ignored by some, and vilified by others (namely the aforementioned coach, Debs, and some of her former teammates). Her best friend is now far away and occupied all the time. And then the most random thing ever happens. Basically, without spoiling too much, she has a chance encounter with some boys who want to do a…. well, it isn’t synchronized swimming, I don’t think it has a name? It’s three dudes playing in the water, with music! Anyway, they want to get on a talent show, and since Lou finds herself at the pool (her “safe place”) with nothing to do… you get the gist.
It’s just a sweet story about a girl trying to navigate new friendships, and find herself- the real Lou, underneath the hole that swimming left behind. She has to rethink all her relationships, how she has been treating people, even how she’s been treating herself. It has humor and sweetness, and for me, nostalgia.
At times the story could be a bit silly (I mean, these guys were doing somersaults in a fish tank for goodness sake!), but the message was awesome. And Lou is only fifteen, which is a bit younger than the main characters I am usually drawn to, and of course it shows (this isn’t a negative, it’s just worth mentioning!) but it’s also nice to see her evolve.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a sweet and humorous story about self-discovery and growing up, grab this book. If you ever swam… run to grab this book.
Sidenote: If you are looking at a take from a real synchronized swimmer, I read this well thought out review from Tamara @ Tamaraniac. She had some issues with some of the portrayal of synchronized swimming, and since I cannot speak to that in any way, I figured I’d link to someone who could explain it better!
Personal Sidenote: When I finished this book, I was going through some stuff. I have had four head coaches in my swimming life- I was lucky enough to basically never have them leave- and not once did I have a “Debs”. No, none were perfect, because none of us are, but each instilled more love for the sport than when I’d started, and I think that’s what matters. While I was reading Goldfish, I found out that my college swim coach had passed away from cancer, quite suddenly. We had our differences from time to time, but he was good, and kind, and to him, the person always mattered much more than the race. And for that, I will be forever grateful. ♥♥♥