August 29, 2014

Swimmers


by Amy Bright
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-513-4
216 pp.
Ages 12+
July, 2014

Amy Bright burst onto the youngCanLit scene with Before We Go (Red Deer Press, 2012), a novel that did not shy away from tough issues like cancer, death and grief, and she felt no compunction to bring it all to a happy conclusion.  As such, I expected another emotionally-engaging story in Swimmers, and I was not disappointed.

Hunter Ryan is returning home to Victoria after spending the past 3 months in Lethbridge, living with his Aunt Lynne and being home-schooled with a twelve-year-old girl, Poppy, by her mother.  When his friend Lee arrives delivering news about Hunter's friend Niall, they board a Greyhound bus to return home, surprisingly bringing Poppy along with them, without her mother's permission.

The events and discussions on the journey home in December are juxtaposed with Hunter's recollections of events primarily from the previous two school years when he'd become close friends with Niall Black, a guy with a lot of issues and always on some drug or another.
"He didn't like the way things were when they weren't blurred around the edges, stretched out and slow." (pg. 17)
And, though a lot of other teens found Niall to be dangerously enigmatic, never knowing what might set him off, Hunter saw something different in Niall.
"The big Niall thing, the one that kept him golden even when everyone started turning on him, was that he was like no one else." (pg. 15)
But, about a year before the trio travel from Alberta to BC, something happens that will change everything for both Niall and Hunter. Much later, Hunter recognizes that,
"You take that step forward and lose the way back" (pg. 91)
Not the same teen who left three months earlier, Hunter proves that sometimes a step forward is just that, hopefully bringing clarity where there was none.  Amy Bright brings Hunter and Poppy through the confusion of misunderstandings about others' actions and their own roles in those choices, burdening themselves with more than just guilt. What's worse is when others attribute that same blame, such as in Hunter's situation.  While Hunter attempts to make sense of his confusion, through interactions with a school counsellor, friends, and family, Poppy suffers in silence, just ruminating about it, wrapping it up in a tight bundle of resentment.

How we see others' flaws and accept responsibility for their choices is a basic theme of Swimmers, a novel in which young people are just trying to keep their heads above water, even attempting to save those who cannot.  Not surprisingly, there are those who should take some responsibility for others' actions, including Hunter's family, Niall's family and Lee, but Hunter and Poppy are not two who should accept it.  They have not only accepted it, they have chosen to carry that burden themselves, never realizing how that load could have been  lessened sooner.  Drowning in it did not have to be an option.

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