Monday, July 17, 2017

[Review] Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

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Publication (dd/mm/yyyy)03/04/2017
Publisher: Text Publishing
Pages: 311
Source: Library
Genre: YA {Contemporary | GLBT}

Violence | Sexual Content | Profanity

My Rating
4/5 stars
My thoughts

I've been wanting to read Steph Bowe since she first debuted in 2010 with Girl Saves Boy. Firstly, she got published at 16 years old, which I think we can all agree is a major feat. Clearly she must be doing something right to have her name out there at such a young age. Most 16 year olds are sleeping in, cruising through high school and working the stoves at Maccas - but not this Steph Bowe chick! That alone drew my curiosity... and then the other day I was positively moved by Mands' review [The Bookish Manicurist] for Night Swimming, and it became the only book I could imagine reading next. I had borrowed a copy from the library but I will most certainly be purchasing my own copy!

Night Swimming is a coming-of-age story that follows Kirby, one of the only two 17-year-olds still left in rural town Alberton, Australia. She enjoys her simple life and is content with a steady job as an apprentice carpenter. Her best friend Clancy, the other 17-year-old still left in rural town Alberton, Australia (and also the only Asian in town) is counting down the days before he can leave for the big smoke - Sydney.

But if Kirby also leaves, just as some others in her family have been known to do in the past, where will that leave her pet goat Stanley, or her rational-thinker mum, or old man Mr Pool who she works for? And when a new family floats into town, Kirby finds herself falling in love with the new girl, Iris . . . what now?

Night Swimming is a vibrant book, abundant with energy and life. I adored the characters and found so much charm within the town. Kirby, whose familial history has left her scared to leave the only home she's ever known, is a great protagonist with an honest voice (and she's also a bookworm!). Clancy, whose big dreams of Making It Big and seemingly unfaltering confidence, vivacity and optimism are encouraging, and he was just one of the best friends ever. Not to mention all of the minor characters, with many unique quirks of their own. As a girl who has only ever known the city-suburban life, I find small town life to be incredibly appealing, and love the idea of everyone knowing everyone. There is an enormous sense of community and togetherness that I feel is not as prominent here.

The excitement of first love comes bustling in with the arrival of Iris, she of the many patterned dresses. She and her family have just moved in and opened up an Indian restaurant which lies in direct competition with Chinese restaurant Purple Emperor just across the road. Perhaps she could have been further developed and fleshed out as a character, but I liked her all the same. I love how Bowe perfectly captures that feeling you get when you first fall for someone new, that intoxicating phase where you just can't stop thinking of that person, and the whole world seems to spin just so that the two of you could meet: fate, stars and the like. Bowe's portrayal of female love was so pure and lovely and beautiful, all the things wrapped into one.

I loved Kirby and Clancy's friendship. It's so refreshing to see a purely platonic friendship between a boy and a girl. They just got each other, and were supportive and present for the other when needed. Their conversations and interactions were so engaging and fun and genuine. I believed in their friendship. I believed how unshakeable they were, and they balanced each other out perfectly!

Family also plays a pretty big role in this book. I liked how devoted Kirby was to her grandfather, who has recently been diagnosed with dementia. She was also fiercely loyal to her mum, with whom she has a strained relationship due to her mum's inability to open up and offer a real emotional connection. For the majority of Kirby's life, her father has been out of the picture, and I was unable to avoid feeling emotional when she finds him on the newspaper, and eventually contacts him. What can I say? I have a thing for absent father arcs.

With a title like Night Swimming, expect some night swimming to be involved, but also random crop circles, walks with Stanley the goat, some Chinese takeaway, a quirky rendition of Little Shop of Horrors - a musical about a hungry alien plant - with the strangest cast, an awkward love triangle and dreams of more, beyond the safety of small town Alberton. This charmingly quirky Aussie coming-of-age story will be sure to leave you with a smile on your face!


First lines:

"My name is Kirby Arrow. I was named after the most dissenting judge in the history of the High Court of Australia. That says a lot more about my mum than it does about me.
"Due to a combination of my low-paying apprenticeship and my book-buying habits, I am skint. (15)
"...She reaches towards my face and brushes the tip of my nose with her thumb-'you had cream on your face.' She sucks the cream off her thumb, then looks surprised, as if she realises what an oddly familiar thing that is to do. 'I'm sorry. I should've asked before I touched your face.'
'It's fine,' I say. My heart has yet to return to its normal rhythm. (86)
"She smiles at me again. No one smiling at me has ever made me forget to breathe. I am unaccustomed to the thrill of it, of being smiled at by someone so beautiful. I feel like I'm a Jane Austen character, swooning like the silly girl in Northanger Abbey who is obsessed with novels. (95)

AUSTRALIA: A&R | Booktopia | Fishpond | Wordery

INTERNATIONAL: Abe Books | Book Depository

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