With my favorite yellow towel slung over the shoulder straps of my red speedo, and my silver goggles perched on my silver bathing cap, I walked onto the dry pool deck. For the first time ever, there wasn’t another person around. The water was absolutely still. And like a ginormous glass mirror, it reflected the first quarter moon – still visible – overhead in the dome.
I slipped off my slides, tiptoed to the deep-end ladder, and stopped for a moment, not wanting to disturb the perfect surface. But I had waited months for this moment, and I couldn’t wait another second.
I dipped in my right foot. And it was like a religious experience, a baptism I slowly submerged myself up to my waist, pushing off the ladder and gliding through the water until my body stopped. Small circular waves formed around me before slowly drifting away and smoothing out. I took a deep breath and let my body sink. As I floated downward, I felt incredibly calm. I was home.
Due to a shoulder injury, Reece can’t swim competitively at the moment, and this physical problem also means that she must move from the Elite school for athletes to West Hill High. While she’d be happy to focus on rehab and getting back to the pool, she finds herself on student council as Vice President. Her brother Jamie ran a rather dubious campaign and ended up as “President Dumbass”, and Reece hopes she can save him, and, therefore, the school, from complete chaos. Things become tense when Reece finds herself attracted to Zain, a big school basketball star and a member of student council who dislikes Jamie a great deal for some unknown reason and who searches out ways to interfere with his ideas and plans.
Reece is an excellent choice for main character, and her passion for swimming and competition comes through in her other activities and choices. She cares deeply about doing her best and being honest. Both through her activities in the pool and also in her relationships, readers see her commitment to what she believes is right, her perseverance and her unwillingness to compromise. Like other elite athletes, Reece must make sacrifices to stay at the top of her game, and she can be disappointed when others don’t live up to these high expectations.
Brother Jamie is charismatic and funny yet, at the same time, annoying. He depends on his quick wit and his charm, and he attempts to run the school as he sees fit, without consultation or discussion with his school council peers. He does, however, have a serious side which shows in his relationship with girlfriend Jae and his ability to comfort and calm her when she needs it.
Zain is the other major character of the novel. Like Reece he is an elite athlete and is captain of the school basketball team. They also have injuries in common, but, while Reece’s shoulder setback is only temporary, Zain was involved in an accident and lost a leg. This disability colours not only the relationship between Zain and Reece, but it also leads to more family drama that either of them anticipates. While Reece is straighforward, Zain is more complicated and comes across as less honest, even sly, in some of his dealings.
Much of the novel is devoted to the hard work and sacrifice needed to get to and stay at the top of one’s chosen sport. The moments when Reece is in the pool seem to define much of her character, and this is where readers come to understand this interesting young woman. Hard work and sacrifice are also needed if one is to continue higher education after secondary school, and this leads to another theme of the novel. Jamie is in his last year of high school, and Reece is only a year behind. Their parents have big plans for their kids to attend their alma mater, and so the question arises of following your own dreams versus fulfilling family expectations.
The relationship between Reece and Zain seems somewhat predictable as the pair goes from an initial dislike bordering on antagonism to falling in love later in the book. Then things completely fall apart between them. By the end, there is an uneasy truce, and readers wonder if the relationship is going to begin all over again. Perhaps there might be a sequel in Susan Marshall’s mind which will answer the question.
Sports injury patient and amputee appear to be something of a double negative, and yet much in the relationship of Reece and Zain becomes positive. At different times in the novel, Reece uses a double negative when she speaks, and this causes problems. Ultimately these slips turn into positives for Reece and other characters, but they symbolize the novel’s title and a theme of the book.
The high school setting is almost a character in itself, with teachers and the principal playing their roles in the plot. Marshall understands young adults of this age group and portrays them with both humour and compassion. Some readers may not be happy with the amount of drugs, booze and sex in the novel. It is also a mystery why Marshall would opt to have one of her characters choose to fake concussion symptoms and, at another point, have Reece choose whether or not she should fake depression. All of the above topics deserve more in depth attention than Marshall gives them if they truly belong in a novel about high school life rather than being merely dramatic and superfluous details.
The characters will rouse emotions in readers. Some may dislike Jamie’s happy-go-lucky attitude while others will relate to his enthusiasm and his daring. Zain, with his various character flaws, may be a little too crafty and complicated for some young adult readers to entirely like. The most positive character is that of Reece, and she will remain with readers as a strong young woman who can often be emotional and angry, but, in the end, learns and adapts and makes the very best of the people and situations around her.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, Ontario.