________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 3 . . . . September 16, 2011


Swim to Win. (Sports Stories).

Valery Hyduk.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2011.
120 pp., pbk., hc. & ebook, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $8.95 (ebook).
ISBN 978-1-55277-666-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55277-698-8 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55277-667-0 (ebook).

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Rebecca King.

**½ /4



“Lasha, you don’t have to go slow just for me,” said Ginger.

“You know, I’m a bit tired from this morning’s practice. We did eight thousand metres and Coach Alexia was on another rampage. She’s made it a theme week. Everything we’re doing is in four-hundred-metre intervals. It’s her idea of fun!”

“Sounds like a blast.” Ginger was already beginning to breathe heavily.

“Oh, it gets better. She made us do the four-hundred-metre butterfly four times! My shoulders are killing me!”

“She’s such a maniac!”

Lasha hung back with Ginger for two laps.

“Okay, John is about to lap us,” said Ginger. “Lasha, you’ve let me hold you back for two laps. You run and keep up with him…show him what a jock you are!”

Lasha looked at Ginger with shock. She hadn’t even told her best friend about her crush yet. Is it that obvious? she wondered.

Author Valery Hyduk has been a competitive swimmer and uses her experience to give the reader a convincing picture of the life of a competitive swimmer. Lasha Boyko is a grade 8 student who has been swimming competitively for four years. Her parents and her brother have made many sacrifices to pay for her swimming fees. She is talented and works hard. This year, her club has hired a new coach to improve the team’s performance. The new coach, Alexia Romanov, is from Russia and has coached 45 athletes to the Olympics in the last 20 years. She is demanding in a way that the swimmers haven’t had to cope with before. Lasha is determined to prove herself to the new coach who has declared that the whole team is “mediocre.” The whole team works hard to exceed the new coach’s expectations. Lasha works hardest of all, but no matter how hard she works and how fantastic her times are, Coach Alexia gives her no praise, only more work and more verbal abuse.

      Hyduk makes the scenes with Lasha in the pool very compelling. The reader aches with Lasha as she pushes through the pain barrier. In addition, Hyduk rounds out Lasha’s character through her relationship with her parents and brother, her friend Ginger, and John, the boy she would like for a boyfriend. Lasha’s generosity of spirit is displayed when she assists Amy, the girl who is currently dating John and who greets her as “Cabbage Roll”, during a timed fitness run at school. When Lasha laps Amy for the third time, she slows to give her some advice on her breathing and her stride, even walking with her for a while. Then Lasha finishes her run and goes back to run with Amy and coax/coach her into finishing.

      Hyduk gives some background for Lasha’s determination not to fail through her school history. When Lasha’s family moved to their current town in mid school year five years before, she found herself way behind the other students in her year. The teacher of her grade 2/3 split class had her sit with the grade 2 students though she was in grade 3. The teacher then asked Lasha’s mother to come in for a conference during which she suggested that Lasha should transfer to a special school which would be closer to her home and where students receive extra help. Lasha, only in town for a few weeks, already knew that this school was for “dumb kids.” Lasha spent a day at the school on a day when the students were going swimming, but the students there were just beginning to swim—hardly Lasha’s speed. At the end of the school year, the teacher had said “there’s no doubt Lasha is a bright kid. She’s made some improvements, but she’s still quite a bit behind and needs a lot more attention. Here in the public system, she’s falling through the cracks.” She offered Lasha’s mother the alternatives of sending Lasha to the special school, having her held back a year, or sending her to tutoring over the summer and to a private school in the fall where the class sizes were smaller. Lasha’s family, with considerable sacrifice, decided to send her to the private school. Her parents work extra hours to pay for her private school and her swim-team fees. Lasha’s extremely bright, older brother is given an old clunker of a car, not as a reward for his hard work or good grades, but so he can help drive Lasha to and from practice and school.

      It is perhaps the author’s intention that this school experience serve as a motivation for Lasha—she is determined to be successful in swimming and in school. She works hard to achieve both goals to make her family’s sacrifices worthwhile. However, as a veteran of 22 years in the school system, I do not find Lasha’s treatment by the school system realistic. A parent would not be given the choice of “let us hold your child back a year or send her to private school.” The student would have been offered resource help, or an Individual Program Plan, or both. Lasha’s brother has reason to be resentful, but his only comment is to say, “So Lasha perhaps you’re not such a dork after all” when the assistant coach tells him she is “Olympic material.” To be fair, a student reader would not likely find this a problem, but it did mar the realism for me.

Swim to Win would be a good Rapid Read/High-Low for grades 5-8.


Rebecca King is a Library Support Specialist (Elementary and Junior High) with the Halifax Regional School Board in Halifax, NS.

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