Breath Like Water

Susannah Ramos became a world champion swimmer at 14. But two years have passed, and she has yet to reclaim her former glory after an injury. Susannah is fighting through the lapse, but she feels like she’s floundering at the one thing she loves most in the world – swimming. When a new coach with a new training strategy and a charming new teammate named Harry Matthews enters her life, Susannah begins a painful fight back to the top of the ranks.

During her dramatic comeback, romance blossoms between Susannah and Harry. But Harry has secrets of his own, and the pressure of competitive swimming and other outside forces work to pull the pair asunder. Susannah must work to balance her own needs and the needs of her loved ones. She must also figure out which wonderful things in life, like friends and swimming, are worth the struggle.

One of the most prominent storylines of Breath Like Water deals with Susannah’s journey as a competitive high school student-athlete. Jarzab intelligently writes about Susannah’s experience with constant pressure from intense coaches and her teammates. The coaches in particular stand out because of their interactions with Susannah and her teammates. They give an intensive look at what it means not only to work hard but to work with intelligence. The swim competitions are well-paced and show Susannah’s thought process as she’s competing.

Told from Susannah’s point of view, this story shows her as a likable but tough kid. Breath Like Water spends a good amount of time detailing Susannah’s recovery from a shoulder injury. The story also shows Susannah’s mental and physical struggle that comes from being a competitive athlete. These parts of Susannah’s journey show her frustration and determination to be better. Susannah faces adversity at every turn, and she takes the emotional and physical pain with as much grace and dignity as could be asked of a sixteen-year-old.

Another prominent storyline deals with the relationship between Susannah and Harry. They quickly go from friends to dating. Susannah learns that Harry has dealt with bipolar disorder for much of his life. This book tackles the difficult parts of Harry’s life, including his past drinking problems and self-harm, and he does relapse during the novel. Susannah and Harry learn how to cope with their insecurities and neither character is villainized for who they are. Things are not perfect for the pair, but they care about each other and work to make their lives better.

Breath Like Water is a refreshing story that intertwines competitive swimming with Susannah’s growth into young adulthood. The heart of the novel is in the love Susannah has for swimming, for Harry, and for her family. Susannah wants to make it to the Olympics, but she learns that win or lose, she has to love herself and love what she does. This book is excellent for those who want an exciting, and often times harsh, look at the reality of competitive swimming. Breath Like Water reads like a love letter—to family, to friendship, and to the water that keeps us all afloat.

Sexual Content

  • One of Susannah’s former swim teammates is pregnant, much to everyone’s surprise as she was slated for the Olympics. When Susannah asks how, her friend replies, “Don’t make me explain where babies come from. My version does not involve storks.”
  • Harry shows up at Susannah’s house early in the morning. She sees Harry and thinks, “The sight of him does funny things to my nether regions.”
  • Susannah likes Harry, and Harry likes Susannah. Susannah thinks about her feelings and says, “I’ve had crushes—I’ve even been kissed a few times, by a boy at swim camp a few summers ago—but nothing close to Harry.”
  • After beating her time at Nationals, Susannah kisses Harry. She narrates, “Before he can say anything else, I bracket his face with my hands and press my lips to his lips in a long, hard kiss that leaves my head spinning…Harry lifts my chin with his fingers and takes my lips with his, easing them apart. His palm comes to rest on my jaw and his other hand drifts to my hip, drawing me in by the waist.” They continue to kiss periodically throughout the book.
  • Harry keeps touching Susannah’s leg with his foot, and Susannah thinks, “He’s got sneakers on, and I’m wearing jeans, and we’re in public, but the image of his barefoot gently touching my bare leg as we lay wrapped around each other in bed keep flashing through my mind.”
  • Susannah is worried about having sex. When she asks Harry if he’s a virgin, he “shakes his head slowly.”
  • Susannah walks in on her sister Nina and another girl “making out on Nina’s bed.” They tell Susannah that they’re dating. Nina later comes out to her parents as pansexual.
  • Susannah and Harry have sex. Susannah narrates, “I love the weight of him, the soft hair on his legs tickling my bare ones, the sharpness of his hip bones digging into mine . . . I sigh as he kisses my throat, my collarbone, the space between my breasts, letting myself drown happily in the sensation of knowing someone loves the body that I never could.” The scene is described over a couple of pages.

Violence

  • Harry has bipolar disorder. When he was young, he “did stupid stuff. Defaced a public building, got into fights with other kids. I was drinking and taking pills, and I . . . I cut myself, sometimes . . . Where no one else can see.”
  • While in a depressed state, Harry “cuts himself too deep” and then calls Susannah for help. Susannah calls 911. When she arrives at his house, she sees “travel-size bottles of alcohol scattered underneath Harry’s desk.” Harry’s parents decide to take him to the youth ward of the psychiatric hospital – one that he’s been to before.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Susannah and her friends go to a house party with other high schoolers. Susannah notes that most of the students “have red Solo cups in their hands, which I’m sure do not contain soda.”
  • Susannah’s mom sends Susannah’s dad out on an errand run before the tamalada, a tamale-making party, to pick up “last-minute groceries, liquor, and other supplies.”
  • Nina, Susannah’s older sister, “has appointed herself bartender” for the tamalada. The adult relatives get a little tipsy during the tamalada.
  • When he was eleven, Harry found out he has bipolar disorder. According to Harry, he “didn’t know how to control [his] emotions or understand what was going on with [him], so [he] started stealing vodka from Bruce’s liquor cabinet and getting drunk in [his] room whenever [his] parents fought.”
  • For his bipolar disorder, Harry is on a list of meds. He lists them saying, “I’m on a mood stabilizer, and Prozac . . . I also take Xanax for anxiety, and Ambien to help me sleep when I need it.”
  • Susannah tears the labrum in her shoulder, and the doctors, “gave [her] some good drugs” to fight off the pain.
  • Susannah’s mom takes Susannah to get prescribed birth control from the gynecologist.

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently throughout. Profanity includes ass, fucking, shit, and damn. People flip each other off on a few occasions as well, though in jest.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Harry and Susannah use the Jewish community center’s pool to practice, and Harry mentions that his stepdad is Jewish.
  • Every Christmas, Susannah’s family hosts a tamalada, where family, friends, and neighbors are invited for a massive “tamale-making party.”
  • Susannah mentions that her parents were raised Catholic but that they don’t go to church.
  • Father Bob, Harry’s friend, and mentor, visits him in the hospital and runs into Susannah. Susannah thinks about her relationship with God. She thinks, “I’m not sure I believe in God, or the wisdom of priests for that matter. The closest I’ve ever come to a religious experience is a really great race.” Susannah and Bob speak for several pages about the Bible and Carl Sagan, both of which Bob is fond of.
  • When Susannah’s mom found out that she was pregnant, she said, “I’m not a religious person, but I prayed to a god I’m not even sure I believe in that I would be the sort of mother a little girl could look up to.”
  • Susannah compares her position in the Olympic trials to the other competitors. She says, “I’m like a mortal who somehow wandered up a cliffside to Mount Olympus and is looking for a place to sit among the gods.”

by Alli Kestler

Whale Talk

T.J. is a Cutter High School senior who despises school sports. He thinks the jocks and their letter jackets are over-glorified, and that the school favors them. He wants nothing to do with sports until his English teacher, Mr. Simet, asks him to form a swim team. After witnessing a mentally handicapped student get bullied for wearing his dead brother’s letter jacket, T.J. forms an idea: a swim team full of high school rejects earning the right to wear letter jackets at school.

What the team lacks in skill they make up for in motivation. There is no pool at Cutter, and they have to travel to every swim meet. Mr. Simet and Icko, a homeless man who sleeps at the gym where they practice, help morph this group of outcasts into a real team. The team eventually becomes a family, a place to share their tragic backstories and offer each other consolation.

The story is told in the first person from T.J.’s point of view. Readers will enjoy his quick wit and appreciate his empathy. T.J.’s motivation for the swim team sways from wanting to defy Cutter’s athletic expectations, to giving the team a sense of belonging. While T.J. makes questionable decisions and can be hot-headed, his heart is in the right place. T.J. has a great support system, including his foster parents and his counselors, who give him advice along his journey. Unusually wise for his age, T.J. learns that knowing someone’s past experiences is the key to understanding the reason behind their actions.

While there is some swim terminology used, Whale Talk focuses mostly on T.J.’s life. There are a lot of subplots besides T.J. forming the swim team, which may be overwhelming for some readers. However, in true Chris Crutcher fashion, every subplot intertwines and contains a lesson to be learned by T.J. and the reader. These subplots have mature topics including bullying, domestic violence, child abuse, racism, and death. Whale Talk is a must-read, heartwarming book for those who want to think deeply about human connection.

Sexual Content

  • J. talks about how his biological mom got pregnant with him. “She’d had a one-night stand with my sperm donor to get even for a good thumping and had no idea the tall black-Japanese poet’s squiggly swimmer was the one in a billion to crash through to the promised land.”
  • When talking to a classmate named Dan Hole, T.J. is grateful his “last name can’t be translated into any target so basic to adolescent males.”
  • J. tries to “outsmart the Internet controls the school puts on” and types in “‘chicken breasts,’ hoping the browser will spit back a little bit about chickens and a whole lot about breasts.”
  • J. talks about how much a jock at his school loves his Ford. T.J. says, “I swear, if God made him choose between that ugly truck and his you-know-what, which he claims is also supersized by McDonald’s, it would have been a three-day decision.”
  • J. describes Carly, the girl he has a crush on. “There is no butt-twitching or flirtatious glancing or any of the symptoms that usually rocket me to Hormone City, but her natural sexuality is jarring.”
  • Carly tells T.J. what she is looking for in a relationship. “If we’re friends, we’re friends. If we have sex, we have sex. I don’t sleep with more than one person, and I won’t go with anyone who does. We double up on birth control.”
  • J. recounts the story of his dad having lunch with a woman and then sleeping with her. “She took him to her house, where they made fast, hot, electric love, uncharacteristic for either of them, to hear Dad tell it.”
  • J. hints that he and Carly messed around in his car. “I drop off Carly to head home, having completed a science experiment with steam and the interior of a Chevy Corvair.”
  • J. tells Tay-Roy, one of the swimmers, his goal for the swim meet should be “for him not to get sexually assaulted on the deck by the female spectators.” T.J. goes on to say Tay-Roy is a “serious hunk in a tank suit.”
  • Mott, one of the swimmers, says one of his mother’s boyfriends molested him. Matt says, “Ol Canada [the boyfriend] couldn’t figure out which bed he was supposed to sleep in.”
  • Rich accuses T.J. of “fucking [Rich’s] wife.” T.J. responds, “Nope. I have a girlfriend.”
  • When Tay-Roy asks Mott what the point of having a girlfriend who lives in Alabama is, Mott “simulates whacking off.” Mott later calls it “cybersex.”
  • Carly’s friend, Kristen, recounts her date with Barbour, a man who is known to be abusive. Kristen told Barbour something that upset him, and he said she “could make it up to him by having sex.” Kristen thought he was joking, but “all of a sudden he was unbuttoning my coat, and I [Kristen] was trying to get out and accidentally scratched his [Barbour’s] face . . . He kept telling me to strip, and I’d say no and he’d punch my arm . . . he just kept saying it faster and faster and hitting me before I could answer.”
  • J. describes the swim team’s new workouts. “We have put the supine surgical-tubing station (which Dan Hole began to call muscle masturbation – thereby placing him forever in Mott’s good graces) into mothballs, and now the guys simply line up in an endless forty-by-infinite-yard relay.”

Violence

  • J. throws himself over a fawn so two hunters can’t shoot it. “Wyberg and Barbour tried to peel me back, slapping the back of my head and kicking my ribs, and in the chaos the deer kicked a three-inch gash in my forehead.”
  • J.’s dad accidentally killed a baby, who crawled under his truck and got caught between the two rear tires. The baby’s mom “discovered a small severed arm lying next to the white line . . . maybe a hundred yards from where the truck spit out the rest of the little boy’s mangled hand.”
  • J.’s dad confronts Rich about stalking his wife, who has a restraining order on him. “He walks in and right up to Rich, shoving his fingers deep on either side of his Adambac, pushing the back of his head against the window.”
  • Rich shoots T.J.’s dad, killing him. “I [T.J.] glimpse the muzzle of the deer rifle . . . Dad instinctively dives directly into the path of the bullet. His body crashes to the pavement with a thud . . . I see blood leaking onto the pavement.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • J. says his birth mother was “getting heavily into crack and crank and heavily out of taking care of me.” She eventually decided to take him to his adoptive parents.
  • J. says Chris was “born addicted to crack cocaine.”
  • J. says his mother “may have been a little too ‘spiritual’ on mood-altering funstuff” when she named him “The Tao.”
  • Simet, T.J.’s English teacher, drinks a beer as he and T.J. eat pizza.
  • Simet orders a glass of wine while he and T.J. are at dinner.
  • J. thinks about his past. “When my bio-mom…was at the top of her druggie game, she would leave me for days, propped in the crib or the car seat . . . I’ve heard my mom say a thousand times that if you give her a drug-addicted mother with a kid under two, she’ll give you a ninety-five percent chance of that kid getting molested or beat or both.”
  • While the swim team is on their way home, the bus drives over ice and smashes into a ditch. Mott says, “Damn, I been on drug trips that weren’t that good.”
  • Rich shows up at T.J.’s house drunk, begging to see his wife.
  • J.’s foster mom says his biological mom was “launched on meth.”

Language

  • God, Jesus, for Christ’s sake, and Goddamn are frequently used as exclamations.
  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes butt, dummy, shit, shitty, shitter, bullshit, shithead, chickenshit, hell, asshole, ass, ass wipe, hardass, smartass, prick, piss off, fuck, fucked-up, fuckin, damn, bitch, son of a bitch, nigger, chink, bastard, crap, and retard.
  • J. says a famous radio talk show gives the “hot poop on big-time crime fighting.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • J. says the Cutter sports teams “pray before games.”
  • J. says the football players are “gods” at Cutter.
  • Coach Cutter goes to church.
  • J. talks about the irony of his dad acting like a saint, yet not being religious. “It’s funny. Dad doesn’t attend church, and it is seldom I hear his spiritual take on anything. But the running over of that little boy almost turned him into a saint, as far as public behavior goes.”
  • In the past, T.J. has a teacher who was “the new preacher at the Mountain Bible Center, and he ran his classroom the way I imagine he ran his church, with a holy iron fist.”
  • While doing an activity where he tries to make all the words he can from the word “Christmas,” Chris puts his own name above “Christ.” The teacher tells Chris he “can’t put [his] own name before the name of the Lord.” Chris responds by saying he was told “at Sunday school that Jesus liked kids and He was nice. So He wouldn’t mind.” As a punishment, the teacher made Chris stand up beside his desk and say “Chris Coughlin thinks he’s better than Jesus.”
  • J.’s dad says he was “mad at God” for letting him accidentally kill a baby.
  • J.’s dad talks about the first time he saw a photograph of the Earth that was taken from the moon. “From a physical point of view, God appeared a long ways off.”
  • Someone talks about how his mother’s old abusive boyfriend, Rance, used to babysit him. “Man, if you want to pass up purgatory and go straight to hell, you want to enroll in Rance Haskins’s Day Care.”
  • J. says it’s “as if the minor gods in charge of jerks are doing their job,” when he catches Rich violating the restraining order.
  • In a fit of rage, Rich shoots T.J.’s dad. As T.J.’s dad is dying, he tells T.J., “You’re going to have to forgive him, T.J. He had no idea what he was doing.” T.J. thinks, “That was Jesus’ last line.”

by Jill Johnson

Losers Bracket

Annie’s two worlds collide when her biological family and foster family both come to watch her swim meet. A fight breaks out between the two families resulting in Annie’s nephew, Frankie, running away. Annie must rely on her friends, her foster brother, and her social service worker to help her better understand her biological family. In the end, Annie vows to help Frankie find a safe home.

Annie finds refuge from her troubles when attending a book club. In the book club, Annie and other high school students engage in discussions about heroism, family, and stories. These discussions help Annie make sense of her life. Annie also finds support and comfort in her best friend, Leah, and in Walter, a good-hearted biker.

Although Annie partakes in basketball and swimming, there are no play-by-play sports scenes and hardly any sports terminology is used. While sports give Annie an outlet to let off some steam, their main function is to give Annie’s mother an opportunity to see her. Sports fans may be disappointed by the lack of sports scenes.

Crutcher portrays a realistic take on the life of a foster child, and clearly and realistically communicates Annie’s intense feelings. The book is told in the first person, and Annie does not sugarcoat any of her feelings or experiences. Annie constantly disregards her foster parents’ rules, but she is very empathetic. Throughout the book, Annie learns that people can be immeasurably kind and selfless. She also learns to appreciate and love her biological family, even if they behave poorly. Loser Bracket teaches that everyone deserves to tell their own story.

Even though Loser Bracket is written at a fifth-grade reading level, the story hits on tough, mature topics such as abortion, obesity, domestic violence, and suicide. For example, Annie’s sister tries to kill herself and her son by driving her car into a lake. A must-read for mature readers, Losers Bracket is a thought-provoking book about what it means to call someone “family.”

Sexual Content

  • When Annie says she is going to suck at the butterfly stroke, Leah tells her it doesn’t have to be pretty because Annie “gets to dazzle some young horny Michael Phelps never-be studs laying out on a blanket in your skimpy Speedo two-piece between races.”
  • Annie thinks, “There is something powerful about making guys drool, even if they’re doughy little boys three to six years younger, walking around between races with their beach towels high up under their boy boobs to hide their cottage cheese handles. I’m pretty sure this sick little part of me has something to do with what Nancy calls my ‘Boots wiring,’ which is designed to ‘git yourself a man.’”
  • Annie talks about past experiences where she realized she could use her body to her advantage.
  • Annie’s mother encouraged Annie to use her body to her advantage. Annie’s mother “told me every chance she got that ‘them titties’ could get me all of what I needed and most of what I wanted. I’m not going into it, but mostly they got me fingerprints and lies.” Annie goes on to say she is “not going down that road,” and she only dates a guy “if he keeps his hands in his pockets.”
  • Annie thinks her swim coach’s girlfriend “doesn’t like the way I twitch my bikini butt at her boyfriend.”
  • At book club, Annie thinks a boy will remember Maddy because of her “outstanding cleavage.”
  • During book club, Maddy tells a boy to speak up and, “make your voice like your pecs.” Annie explains, “If he does make his voice like his pecs, it will be loud and clear . . . almost any T-shirt fits him like a coat of paint.”
  • Marvin, Annie’s foster brother, tells Annie he can hear his parents talking in their room through the heat grate in his room. He says, “Unfortunately, that’s not all you hear,” hinting that he can hear his parents having sex.
  • Although the word “masturbation” is never used, Marvin hints that he does it. He tells Annie, “Hey, everyone thinks guys my age are stumbling into puberty trying to figure out what to do with our di. . . private parts. I know exactly what to do with my private parts; I just don’t know who to do it with. Except for, you know, myself.” He goes on to tell Annie how his dad got him a kitten to “keep him from practicing” because “when a kitten sees something moving under the covers, he pounces.”
  • Annie describes the show The Leftovers. “On October 14 of whatever year, at the exact same moment, two percent of the population of Earth vanished . . . if you were some guy making love with one of the two percent, you better be on a soft mattress because you’re going to fall about a foot. Farther if it happened to be Nancy. . . these ‘leftover’ people screw like rabbits, because who knows when it will happen again.”
  • Annie jokingly tells Marvin to “memorize the naked scenes” on the show they’re watching because “there will be a test.” Marvin answers, “Which I will pass with flying colors. I may even go on the Internet afterward to pick up some extra credit.”
  • Someone tells Annie, “You’re almost eighteen. In some cultures, you’d be a sex slave by now.”

Violence

  • When Annie’s mom doesn’t show up to her swim practices, Annie feels an emptiness. But when she does show up, Annie is ready for a fight. Annie thinks her brain is “wired backwards,” and compares this phenomenon to “those chicks who cut on themselves; no obvious upside, but every one of them says there’s relief when the blade or the piece of glass slices through.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Walter says Annie’s mom didn’t show up to the basketball game because “Something urgent came up.” Annie asks, “Was it in a pill bottle?”
  • Annie watches her nephew Frankie play with two stuffed animals. He makes them talk, saying they “don’t need no dads ‘cause they do drugs and go to jail. And they hurted our mom.”
  • At Annie’s swim meet, her biological and foster families get into a fight. Annie recounts, “Sheila [Annie’s sister], who must be high, is convinced these people [her foster family] are actually here to taunt me.”
  • Annie and her best friend, Leah, spend hours looking for Frankie. When Leah tries to reassure her, Annie says, “Yeah, well, tell you what’s about to happen with my drug-crazed whore of a sister. She’ll get on TV and cry and say what a wonderful little guy her Frankie was and how desperate and brokenhearted she is, and when it dies down she’ll double her drug use and Frankie will just be another awful Boots memory.”
  • Leah says humans “get a nine-month head start with our mothers, no matter how messed up they are . . . We eat what they eat, share their fluids. . . Biology doesn’t separate vitamins from drugs.”
  • Someone tells Annie that her sister is dropping weight fast. Annie asks, “Like a meth user? Does she still have teeth?”
  • The family goes to Quik Mart every year for Thanksgiving dinner. “Though Quik Mart sells wine, you’re not allowed to drink on the premises, so Walter buys a few bottles and hides them in the toilet tank in each restroom, where you sneak in to fill the Diet Pepsi can you brought inside your backpack.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: crappy, crap, bitch, bitchy, son-of-a-bitch, ass, asshole, hard-ass, dumb-ass, kick-ass, shitty, shit, shithole, bullshit, damn, damned, hell, bastard, goddamn, fuckin, fuck, bigot, and piss off.
  • Lord, Jesus, God, Oh my God, and For Chrissake are all used several times as exclamations.
  • One of the characters is referred to as a dyke.
  • When Annie is losing a swim race, she was “cursing Janine like she’s the Antichrist.”
  • A woman says she is married with two kids that she would “murder Jesus for.”
  • Annie thanks her coach for “kicking my butt this summer. For keeping me swimming this god-awful butterfly until I got it.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Walter tells Wiz, a social worker, “I’m not a religious man, Wiz; don’t know God from no God from Christian God from Muslim God from Star Wars God.”
  • At book club, the members talk about heroes. Mark asks about Jesus, and Annie thinks, “Very little of what we discuss doesn’t go back through Nazareth for Mark.” When someone says Jesus isn’t real, Mark says, “Nobody more real than Jesus.”
  • Annie thinks, “Mark . . . holds tight to his Christian beliefs, though he never pushes them on you like some people. He also acts on them.”
  • Someone tells Mark, “Pinocchio is more real than Jesus.”
  • When students in the book club try to place Jesus in the same category of popular culture heroes, Mark says, “I’ve been in church every Sunday and Wednesday night since, like, before I can remember. . . that’s where all my heroes come from, starting with Jesus…I just couldn’t leave Him in with Yoda and Obi-Wan.”
  • During the book club’s debate on heroism, someone explains the dilemma of The Last Temptation of Christ.
  • When someone searches the river for Frankie but doesn’t find him, Annie thinks, “Thank God.”
  • Walter tells Annie how he struggled with PTSD. “I’d tried everything . . . Every church told me something different – didn’t know whether to let Jesus save me or save myself.” He goes on to say how he almost went “out the easy way,” but realized “if I jump and there’s a god, I’m going to have to account for myself.”
  • Walter tells Annie he wanted to help her biological mother, and Annie asks if he thought God was testing him. Walter answers, “The world tests you, Annie. If there’s a god, he has bigger fish to fry.”
  • Mark tells the book club about his sister who had an abortion and was thus banished from his religious family. Annie tells Mark, “If you do go to [your sister] you lose seven other people, all family.” Mark adds, “And Jesus.”
  • Another book club member says, “I go to church, too, and the Jesus I know would treat your mother like a money changer, no offense to your mother.”
  • Annie thinks, “I remember talking with Mark about God one night after book club last year, walking away thinking I hope he’s right. I hoped some great big entity is watching, some entity who wants things to turn out right . . . and who has the power to make that happen. But at the same time I was afraid to want it, because of how much it hurts to not get it.”

by Jill Johnson

Up for Air

Annabelle is relieved to be finished with seventh grade, and she’s ready to swim the summer away with her two best friends, Jeremy and Mia. In school, Annabelle struggles due to a learning disability, but when it comes to swimming, she’s the fastest girl in middle school. In fact, she is so fast that she is recruited to join the high school summer swim team. She is excited to hang out with her new teammates, especially Conner, a cute sophomore who just can’t seem to take his eyes off her. However, after an accident that leaves her unable to swim, she realizes how fragile her popularity really is. She starts to question if Conner really likes her, who her real friends are, and who she is without swimming.

Morrison addresses difficult topics through the eyes of an incredibly perceptive thirteen-year-old. Annabelle wants to express her sympathy to others, such as Jeremy’s older sister, Kayla, who is recovering from an eating disorder. Although Annabelle has never had an eating disorder, she understands how hard it must be for Kayla to wear a swimsuit or go to an ice cream parlor. She tells Kayla, “I’m sorry you had to go through that. It must have been really hard. And I’m really happy you’re better.”

Annabelle also struggles with the changes in her home life. Annabelle’s parents got divorced four years ago due to her father’s drinking problem. Since then, her father moved away and her mother remarried. Annabelle feels guilty for having a good relationship with her stepfather when she isn’t even sure she wants a relationship with her biological father.

Although Annabelle is a competitive swimmer, Up for Air hardly talks about the sport itself. Instead, it focuses on how being on the high school swim team affects Annabelle, her friends, and her family. Even though Annabelle makes mistakes throughout the book, readers will still love her as she grapples with the changes that come with adolescence. Like many girls, Annabelle struggles with insecurities, anxiety, and the desire to be liked.  Up for Air explores the themes of self-confidence, friendship, and trust, making it the perfect bridge between elementary and young adult books.

Sexual Content

  • Annabelle describes her new swimsuit, which is more revealing than her previous ones. “The straps were thin and the front dipped low enough that she could see the freckle in the middle of her chest – the one most of her shirts covered up. Her other racing suits flattened her out, but this one didn’t. And the leg openings were cut extra high, which meant her legs looked extra long.”
  • At the pool, Annabelle notices she looks more like the high schoolers now that her body has changed. She is excited when Conner looks at her in her swimsuit and tells his friend she is “all grown up.”
  • It is implied that Annabelle cannot buy a shirt because it is too revealing. “When Annabelle had stepped out of the dressing room, Mia’s mom had said, ‘Va-va-voom! Honey, I don’t think you can wear that shirt to school!’”
  • Elisa, an older swimmer, tells Annabelle, “Coach Colette was practically salivating about how she’ll get to coach you once you’re fourteen.” Conner says, “What’s that now? Who’s salivating?” Elisa responds, “If anybody says anything that could in any way be twisted around to sound inappropriate, there you are.”
  • Annabelle admires her swim coach, Colette’s, body. “Annabelle hoped that when she did peak, her body would look a lot like Colette’s. People talked about how hot, pretty, and strong Colette was. Annabelle wanted people to talk about her like that, too.”
  • Annabelle invites Mia to get ice cream, so Mia can see the guy who was flirting with her last time they went.
  • At lunch, Annabelle sits with a few high schoolers. They are playing a game where one person names two people, and the others have to choose one. The high schoolers tell Annabelle the purpose of the game is to choose who they would want to “spend an afternoon alone with.” Annabelle doesn’t understand the underlying meaning.
  • When a guy asks Annabelle to choose between two guys, she says, “I don’t know. Why don’t you choose first?” She feels bad for making this joke. She knows they only laugh because they’re uncomfortable with homosexuality.
  • At a meeting with her principal to discuss her low test scores, Annabelle reflects that while her body is developing earlier than her peers, her brain is developing later than her peers.
  • When someone suggests going swimming, Annabelle notices no one has a swimsuit. “Were they going to swim in their clothes? Or – ack – not in their clothes?” In the end, they don’t swim.

Violence

  • Annabelle and her friends attempt to sneak into the backyard of a famous director. They hoist her up to unlock the gate, but she falls when the alarm goes off. “Her left knee smacked one of the iron bars halfway down, and her right ankle twisted under her weight when her foot hit the ground. But that was nothing compared to the pain that knifed through her right wrist when she put down her hand to stop her fall.”
  • Annabelle looks at her injured wrist a few minutes after falling. Her wrist “had puffed up pretty badly, and the tender skin on the side of her thumb was turning blue.”
  • The morning after she injures her wrist, “her wrist and thumb were even bigger, and the tender skin was pink and purple, like the ugliest sunset imaginable. She couldn’t rotate her hand at all. She could barely even flex her fingers.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Annabelle’s biological father had a drinking problem. She flashes back to one day when he came to pick her up from swim practice. He was swaying and talking “funny, as if he had marshmallows inside his cheeks.” Annabelle’s mom drove her home.
  • When Annabelle’s dad still lived with her and her mom, Annabelle would “wake up in the middle of the night and find him sitting on the couch with a glass of amber liquid in his hand.”
  • Annabelle remembers her mom telling her dad, “I’m worried about the drinking. I’m worried you haven’t started looking for another job. I’m worried you don’t seem like your old self.”
  • Annabelle goes to a party where a few high schoolers are drinking beer. Annabelle does not drink.
  • Annabelle has “never been able to forget the way her dad had slurred late at night or the way he swayed and couldn’t focus his eyes on her that terrible day when he showed up drunk at swim practice.”

Language

  • Jeremy tells Annabelle, “I can’t believe those dicks left you!”
  • Mia tells Annabelle, “It sounds like you really treated Jeremy like crap.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jill Johnson

 

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