________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 2. . . .September 10, 2010.


Swim the Fly.

Don Calame.
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2009.
345 pp., pbk., $11.00.
ISBN 978-0-7636-4776-6.

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.





Every summer there is a goal. It’s tradition. I don’t remember when it started or why. But as long as I can remember, we’ve always come up with something we had to accomplish before the start of the new year. When we were ten, it was riding our bikes fifteen miles away to Perry Lake and skinny-dipping. When we were twelve, it was going to the Fern Creek Golf Course every day until we collected a thousand golf balls. Over the past few years, the goals have become more centered around girls and sex. Two years ago, each of us had to get our hands on a Playboy and show it to the others. Last year the ante was upped to finding an illegal password for a porn site. And now, Cooper’s challenge for this summer. Which I can’t see ever happening.

Older middle school/early high school readers, especially those adolescent males who have grown up reading Gordon Korman’s books, will love the humour Calame offers in his first novel, the hilarious Swim the Fly.

     Matt Gratton, Sean Hance and Cooper Redmond, friends since kindergarten, have been members of the Lower Rockville Razorbacks swim team since grade three. The summer between the boys’ ninth and tenth grades finds them once again competing for the Razorbacks under the stern tutelage of their coach, the “gourd-shaped” Ms. Luntz. Matt, the story’s 15-year-old narrator, acknowledges that the three of them “happen to be the three least athletic kids on the team,” and they have a large collection of fifth place ribbons to prove it. The trio are also certainly not numbered among their school’s in-crowd, and they have still to muster up the courage to ask a girl out.

     Matt, however, hopes to change that dating situation this summer as the Razorbacks have a new team member, Kelly West, someone Matt describes as “beyond hot.” While Matt’s two buddies try to convince him that Kelly is definitely out of his league since Kelly’s former boyfriend, Tony “The Gorilla” Grillo, is a jock, something that “the broomstick in a bathing suit” Matt is not, Matt perseveres and is provided with an opportunity to impress Kelly during the second week of swim practice as injury sidelines the Razorbacks’ male butterfly specialist. When Coach Luntz asks for volunteers to “swim the fly” and she sets the bar very low (“We don’t need you to win. We just need you to place. Most of the teams don’t bother entering a swimmer in the butterfly, so all it means is finishing. Otherwise we don’t get a single point from the event.”), Matt impulsively volunteers, momentarily forgetting that the one-hundred-yard butterfly is the swim meet’s hardest event and that, at the moment, he can’t swim the fly even one of the necessary four laps without stopping to rest.

     Swimming the fly without drowning, while still impressing Kelly, is just one of Matt’s summer challenges. The second he shares with Coop and Sean, for, as the excerpt above explains, the trio have a summer tradition of setting themselves a challenge that must be accomplished before the new school year begins, and this summer’s challenge, which was Coop’s idea, is for all of them to see “a real, live naked girl.” Coop’s rules stipulate that nudity in movies, magazines or on the Internet doesn’t count. Sean suggests that, dressed as girls and wearing makeup and wigs, they sneak into the women’s locker room at the community centre and spy on schoolmate as she changes after her tae kwon do class. When Matt’s sudden diarrhea in the locker room area aborts this plan, the trio later decide to hide in a walk-in closet at a party and take a snapshot of a couple making out, but the sound of the Coop’s cell phone camera leads to their presence being revealed. Another opportunity to possibly see “a real, live naked girl” comes in a clothing store when Coop decides that they can peek over the dividers in the fitting rooms. Again the trio fail, but they finally achieve “success” when, at Coop’s suggestion, they spy on a nudist beach, one which turns out to be for adults only and which does not contain the world’s most photogenic bodies.

     At book’s end, Matt has not only seen a naked “girl,” but he has also more than survived his swim and has a girlfriend, albeit not the one whose affections he set out to win. A nice touch, although one that might be lost on the book’s adolescent audience, is Calame’s inclusion of the parallel dating problems being experienced by Matt’s 76-year-old grandfather.

     Despite Swim the Fly’s possibly intimidating 300+ page length, few young males will likely be able to resist reading just a few pages of a book that suggests it’s going to be about seeing a “real-live naked girl.” And once into the book, they will be hooked. Perhaps it is Calame’s experience as a screenwriter that actually makes Swim the Fly into a very quick read as each short chapter works well as a stand-alone scene while also contributing to advancing the overall storyline. Matt, Coop and Sean, who clearly emerge as distinct individuals, do share young adolescent males’ interests in the “unknown” female body while also finding gross happenings, such as upchucking, and bodily functions, like farting and experiencing unwanted erections, to be uproariously funny.

Highly Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson, CM‘s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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