Swimming, a novel by Nicola Keegan, is about a girl named Pip, her troubled family, and her remarkable athletic talent. What makes this novel exceptional is listening to Pip tell us the story of what happens on the way from her home in Kansas to the Olympics and a big pile of gold medals. Pip is a young person with talent and Keegan wonderfully captures her voice: The vulnerability, resilience, impatience, know-it-all, emotional-roller-coaster ride that is youth.
Set in the late-1970s through the 1980s, the book opens with Pip's frazzled parents taking their infant daughter to the pool for aqua baby class. "I'm a problematic infant . . ." says Pip, "I'm nine months old and the longest I've slept at one time is one hour and forty-three minutes." Happily for everyone, Pip takes to the water and her course is set. Pip swims.
Initially, Pip's swimming is an interest she loves and pursues as she copes with a number of tragic events in her family; nuns and Catholic school; being a girl growing up; and having serious sugar jones. This first half of the book was my favorite part: I laughed, cried, underlined passages and jammed the book with numerous book marks. In my opinion, the book is worth reading for that portion alone, but you should read the whole thing because the story's second half is interesting, thoughtful, and appropriate.
As Pip gets older, her swimming talent is recognized by coaches. She begins the intensive training required for competing against the world's best, including Pip's nemesis from East Germany. Even as I enjoyed this part of the story I wondered, how will this end? And that is exactly the question Pip is left with after she wins her medals, grows older, and gets slower in the pool. What do you do after swimming?
Swimming, a thoughtful and funny novel, is a highly recommended read.