Nearly everything important in 12-year-old Gabriella's life that summer of 1957 can be traced to the river. Without friends, her mother mysteriously absent, and her father, the general, treating her as if she doesn't exist, Gabriella turns to the river beside the Marine base where she lives in North Carolina. She's determined to learn to swim so she can make the general proud by showing him she's good at something.At the river Gabriella meets Hawkins, an African-American steward in the kitchen of her father's quarters. Gabriella decides to trust Hawkins to show her a few swim techniques. He becomes her swim coach and a person she can talk with, even about the tragedy of the youth Emmett Till. Two years earlier, the fourteen-year-old Emmett was lynched and his body thrown into Mississippi's Tallahatchie River. Despite brutal beatings, Emmett refused to say what his racist murderers wanted: that he wasn't as good as them. At the river beach in North Carolina, Gabriella becomes close friends with Doyle, a teen and neighbor who plays Mississippi Delta Blues for her on his guitar. She tangles with another neighbor, Col. Perkins, a lurking presence with more than just a casual interest in Gabriella's growing friendship with Hawkins. And she feels a tide in her heart pulling her across the river to an old mansion, a tide as strong as a mother's love, even a deeply troubled mother who does not want to be found.If she can reach Mama, if she can show the general she's good at something, Gabriella will have the only thing she's ever wanted: her family together again. At the river Hawkins helps her find her strength. Emmett helps her find her heart. Yet as she swims toward young adulthood, it could all be lost. Emmett had been murdered for whistling at a white woman. Could her friendship with Hawkins endanger the tough Marine? It doesn't seem possible. Until a sudden storm on the river changes Gabriella's life - forever.
Stars: Overall 4 Narration 4 Story 4
“...I ask him if he knows the name Emmett Till.”
That one sentence exemplifies the growth and awareness brought to a 12 year old girl, daughter of a military officer, motherless and wandering around somewhat aimlessly one summer in late 1950’s North Carolina. Reminiscent on many levels to the title To Kill a Mockingbird, the parallels are clear: a young female protagonist learning that life is complex and multi-layered, a single father, traditions and attitudes in flux, and one person, or people who refute what ‘everyone’ knows simply by their proximity to Gabriella.
The narrative voice in this story is solid and clear, even with Gabriella’s confusion and questions with all she believes she knows, all she is learning, and the questions and concepts that are just beyond her comprehension, this becomes a well-defined story of growth and acknowledging the world around you, while trying to build your new voice that will gain notice from a rather distant father.
As the summer progresses, Gabriella is learning to swim at the river: while her efforts to win the swim meet is not controversial, her coach in swimming and in her awakening to the broader issues of the world happens to be an African American man, assigned as houseman and cook for she and her father. The importance of the river, the swimming, the struggle to gain her father’s approval all mix with imaginings and questions, showing us all that answers are not always what we want to hear, or think we need at the time.
Narration in this story is provided by Lindsey Gast, and she manages to grasp the ‘sound’ of a 12 year old girl without sounding cartoonish or being a vocal caricature, and uses that sense of the character of Gabriella to inform her every thought. Other characters are presented with small changes in pitch, tone and depth of accent, and are clearly indicative of the characters in age and gender. An easy story to listen to, the name of Emmet Till may be a new one for some, but the issues that are revealed in this story are timeless and some are eerily relevant in the consideration of current events.
I received an AudioBook copy of the title from the publisher via AudioBook Jukebox. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
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What made the experience of listening to The Girl Who Swam to Atlantis the most enjoyable?
The unassuming power of the characters as they grow, physically and socially, through a tumultuous era.
Which scene was your favorite?
When Gabriella and Hawkins come across the epitome of a racist in the backwoods of North Carolina, who also happens to be a police officer, the tension and unsung heroism in the scene is palpable. Oddly enough, it is a perfect blend of love, strength, bravery and patriotism.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?