You guys! It is a swimming book! SWIMMING. Let’s take a moment to flail, please! 

Okay, we may proceed.

Goldfish by Nat Luurtsema
Published by Feiwel & Friends on June 7th 2016
Pages: 240

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. ♥♥♥

Gah, okay, let’s talk! Did you do any sports? Did you have a hard time when you no longer did them? Do you still do them? 

Posted June 7, 2016 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in Review / 22 Comments

22 responses to “Review: Goldfish by Nat Luurtsema

  1. oh oh so I was never a swimmer. BUT THIS BOOK STILL SOUNDS REALLY COOL. I actually mostly write about 15 year olds, so I should probably read more books about them since I’m such an old creature myself. AHem. BUT SPORT. WHAT EVEN IS THAT WORD, SHANNON? I 100% HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO SPORT. Oh wait, I mean, I run. But that’s not counted because I’m like running by myself at 5:45am so no one notices I’m an uncoordinated grape. #sensible

    And that’s super sad about your coach. *sends hugs*

    • I feel like running definitely counts. I cannot run. I never could. Like even when I was generally doing a good job in the pool, I was dead last during our off season training because I could not run to save my life. Like, in the zombie apocalypse, I would definitely be dead. Unless I could swim away 😉

      And thank you, I appreciate that. He was much too young, and had young sons, and it just all around sucks. But I think reading this book helped, in a way, knowing that there were good coaches out there, not this awful woman that Lou had to deal with!

  2. A SWIMMING BOOK?! ALRIGHT I’M READING THIS. I’ve never read a book about the sport before, and since I’ve experienced swimming in the past (and may I just say I was addicted to it for quite a while), I’m definitely going to read this book. Especially since you loved it. <3 Awesome review, Shannon!

  3. How interesting that this is a book about swimming. I used to love swimming as a kid. I wanted to try for the team, then my body happened and I was too ashamed to be seen in public in a swimsuit, I sort of let go of that dream, which I still regret to this day.
    Anyways, I feel bad this girl has to quit the team. I really don’t like this coach already. I’m glad she finds the synchronized swimming group though and finds herself in the pool again! 🙂 Even though the story is silly at times, I think this is one I would really like. I wonder if it’s available on audio. Either way, I’ll find a way to get this!
    Lovely review, Shannon! 🙂

    • Awww Nick! I am so sorry to hear that! I know you aren’t alone either, sadly. I had friends who didn’t swim who’d look at me like I told them I killed kittens and nuns or something, because how could I be in front of humans in a bathing suit? I get it. I hated- still hate, even more now!- my body, and all the swimmers were either long and thin or.. well, short and thin, but no one was anything but thin, except for me. Looking back, I wasn’t even heavy- I just wasn’t skinny, my body was never and will never be built by that. But man, body image is a hell of a thing to deal with- even without the worry of putting on a bathing suit (a skintight skimpily cut one at that!) in front of your peers.

      I bet it is/will be on audio for sure! I hope that you do get to read it, it was really a sweet book. And big hugs ♥

  4. I’m not a swimmer, but that book sounds a like a good book. I have mild cerebral palsy so doing sports is hard for me too. But I do exercise now. I do kickboxing, some martial arts, and yoga.

  5. Hi, do you remember me? I used to go here.

    I also never did sports (except for when I played soccer for a term but that didn’t go that well) but I am always fascinated by novels that have sports in them. It’s so very different from my own life and idk, it’s just INTERESTING. I am also a boring person. *shrugs*

    I am glad both you and Val bb could relate to this novel in different ways given your different swimming experiences and also want you to know I love you a lot.

    *sends all the hugs your way*

    • Thank you my love! ? You are very much NOT a boring person, don’t say such things about my lovely Rashika! Also, I’m going to blame soccer, not you. Because soccer seems “meh” to me. (My dad was one of those anti-soccer people and I think it rubbed off haha)

  6. I can’t believe how many bloggers I know who are former swimmers (you, Val, and my friend Cecelia)! Who knew?! I wound up skipping this one because, as you say, it seemed very silly. That said, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the review. I’d been waiting to hear a bit more about it from some People I Trust.

    • It was a bit silly- but in that cute way, not an annoying way, if that makes sense (in my head, there’s a distinction anyway ?). Also I love that you know even more swimmer-bloggers! We should form a club- or a team at least ?

  7. Tearing up again. God damn it swimming. Why do you do this to us! Also I am so freaking glad I have never had a coach like Debs. Does she even exist in real life? Probably does somewhere, bleh.

    Oo I will have to read Tamara’s review now, because I may have just skipped over all those synchronized swimming scenes. And yes, I do think it is synchronized swimming? Not sure.

  8. How have I not heard about this book??? Craziness! It sounds amazing, so I will be adding it to my TBR for sure. I never did sports in high school (or any other time). I have always been hopelessly clumsy and I also had no interest. Ha. I am so sorry about your swim coach!

  9. OOH I WANT TO READ THIS. When I lived in South Africa before we moved to England the first time around we lived in an estate that had two pools and I swam every single day and I miss it so much! I’d love to start swimming again but I live in England so the weather isn’t the best. 🙁 I’ll definitely be reading this!

  10. I AM SO SAD TO SAY TAHT I CAN NOT SWIM. 🙁 it’s so sad because I actually want to learn how to swim and stuff but… FAIL. I’d probably see scared and swimming that I was going to die or something. I love that even though the protagonist went through all of THAT she was still able to remain herself and was still able to make us all relate to her. 🙂

    • Aww you could definitely still learn! It’s a little more time consuming when you’re older, just because you have to kind of unlearn your fears and instincts, but it’s totally doable! I’ve taught private lessons with adults and such, and usually they’re very determined, so it works great!

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