REVIEW: Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry

12/04/2012 — 5 Comments

learningtoswimLearning to Swim by Sara J. Henry

Publisher: Crown Publishers (a division of Random House Books)
Publication Date: February 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 289 pages
Source: borrowed from the library

Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense

The Blurb

“If I’d blinked, I would have missed it. But I didn’t, and I saw something fall from the rear deck of the opposite ferry: a small, wide-eyed human face, in one tiny frozen moment, as it plummeted toward the water.”

When she witnesses a small child tumbling from a ferry into Lake Champlain, Troy Chance dives in without thinking. Harrowing moments later, she bobs to the surface, pulling a terrified little boy with her. As the ferry disappears into the distance, she begins a bone-chilling swim nearly a mile to shore with a tiny passenger on her back.

Surprisingly, he speaks only French. He’ll acknowledge that his name is Paul; otherwise, he’s resolutely mute.

Troy assumes that Paul’s frantic parents will be in touch with the police or the press. But what follows is a shocking and deafening silence. And Troy, a freelance writer, finds herself as fiercely determined to protect Paul as she is to find out what happened to him. What she uncovers will take her into a world of wealth and privilege and heedless self-indulgence—a world in which the murder of a child is not unthinkable. She’ll need skill and courage to survive and protect her charge and herself.

Sara J. Henry’s powerful and compelling Learning to Swim will move and disturb readers right up to its shattering conclusion.

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My Thoughts

For me, this book was just OK. I went into it hoping for a lot more than it actually delivered. I was expecting a book full of suspense, a thriller – I mean, a little boy is thrown off a ferry, the synopsis hints at a great story, but it completely missed the mark. There wasn’t suspense, and what the synopsis hints at never comes about. I kept anxiously waiting for the big reveal only to be left disappointed. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a good book – it was well-written and the plot was OK, it just misrepresented itself which was a let-down. It was slow in the middle of the book, nothing eventful really happened, but there was a lot of character development done there.

The character of Troy was likeable but I found she made really weird decisions that makes the book as a whole hard to believe. She finds a boy and decides that she loves him so she doesn’t turn him in to the police – then tries to solve the case on her own. She uses Google to find the boy’s father (who has managed to keep a kidnapping out of the media for several months, by the way) and decides to drive up to Ottawa to see if he could kill his own son.  Then moves in with the guy – but not in a romantic sense. She just drops everything and moves in to help with Paul. Because that would be the normal thing to do. I felt the ending was a bit far-fetched but it wrapped up the book nicely, and I suppose in this crazy world it could be plausible.

A small problem I had with the book was all the little asides about Canada and how Canadians live. I felt that it stopped the flow and detracted from the story. The cultural differences between Canada and the USA aren’t that big, so to me it felt unnecessary to stop the story progression in several places to explain to the reader these slight differences. I didn’t have a problem when it was worked into a scene (like Troy’s brother trying poutine for the first time, so Troy had to explain it to him before he tried it), it was the little side comments during narration that annoyed me.

It sounds like I hated this book, lol – I didn’t hate it. I thought it was OK. Enjoyable, even. It was just misrepresented. If you go into it knowing that it’s not going to be a mystery or thriller, and more like contemporary fiction, I think it would be a better read.

My Rating: 3 stars

**EDIT**

Sara J. Henry stopped by the blog to give me an updated synopsis, one that I think is a lot truer to the book, so here it is:

When she sees what looks like a child tumbling from a ferry into frigid Lake Champlain, Troy Chance dives in without thinking. When she gets the child to shore she discovers that his name is Paul, he speaks only French—and no one seems to be looking for him. Her determination to protect Paul pulls Troy from her quiet life in a small Adirondack town into an unfamiliar world of wealth and privilege in Canada and then in Vermont. Her attachment to him—and the danger she faces when she tries to unravel the mystery of his abandonment—force her to evaluate everything she thought true about herself. Sara J. Henry’s riveting, award-winning debut will keep readers engrossed right up to its shattering conclusion.

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5 responses to REVIEW: Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry

  1. 

    Hi, thanks for reading and reviewing my book. FYI, I didn’t write the promotional copy – that unfortunately is not always within the author’s control – and I agree it is misleading. It has been changed for the current paperback version. Here’s the current promotional coy:

    “When she sees what looks like a child tumbling from a ferry into frigid Lake Champlain, Troy Chance dives in without thinking. When she gets the child to shore she discovers that his name is Paul, he speaks only French—and no one seems to be looking for him. Her determination to protect Paul pulls Troy from her quiet life in a small Adirondack town into an unfamiliar world of wealth and privilege in Canada and then in Vermont. Her attachment to him—and the danger she faces when she tries to unravel the mystery of his abandonment—force her to evaluate everything she thought true about herself. Sara J. Henry’s riveting, award-winning debut will keep readers engrossed right up to its shattering conclusion.”

    I in fact lived and worked in Canada (the Ottawa area) for a number of years, and received my masters degree from Carleton University in Canada. I’m curious what Canadian facts you thought were not true – they’re based on the time I lived there and my subsequent visits (and a lot of fact checking) – I also consulted members of the RCMP and Ottawa and Montreal police services.

    I also had several friends from the Ottawa area proof the manuscript carefully before publication – and none of the Canadian readers who have contacted me expressed any problem with my representation of the area and the people – if so, I would have made corrections in the paperback edition!

  2. 

    Sara,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my review. I like it when authors do that! 🙂 Thanks for the updated synopsis, as well – I had no idea that the promotional copy didn’t get written by the author, I will keep that in mind. The new copy is a lot truer to the book.

    My comments about your writing about Canada is based perhaps on the fact that I’m from western Canada rather than eastern Canada. For example, near the end there is mention of contacting the RCMP, but they were already in contact with the police. This confused me so I looked it up just now after reading your comments, and discovered that Ontario has provincial police as well as the RCMP on a federal level. In the provinces where I have lived (BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan), the police is synonymous with RCMP, we don’t have different levels. I have edited my review in this area because reading it now I realize that it was a bit harsh and unfair because you’re writing about a different area of Canada than I’m familiar with. I meant no offense, and I’m sorry if it came across as a personal attack.

    Thanks again for your comments!

  3. 

    No, it didn’t seem personal, but I was SO careful with all the bits about Canada that I did wonder what you thought I got wrong! One of my Canadian beta readers thought I was wrong about who would handle this crime – she thought it would be the RCMP, while in fact the provincial police service would handle it (I triple checked!) – so I figured if a Canadian thought it was wrong when it wasn’t, I’d better clarify that. (I’ve learned it doesn’t matter if you are RIGHT, it matters whether readers think you are right! Which sometimes means you have to squeeze in little explanations …) Ottawa, actually, I think, has the provincial police, the local police, AND the RCMP! (I don’t remember exactly now, but I remember that I was really careful to get it right.)

    Sometimes authors get to write the promotional copy or book flap copy (or have some say in the covers) – but more often, not. I was lucky that on the new book – A COLD AND LONELY PLACE – I wrote my own copy and had a lot of input on the cover. And that we’ve now updated the copy for LEARNING TO SWIM on the internet feeds!

    Thanks so much for your response!

  4. 

    And PS, most Americans have NO idea what poutine is! So I did have to explain it for that audience, and presumably for the German audience (the book sold quite well in Germany).

    • 

      LOL, yes…poutine is a definite Canadian thing. I work with a lot of newcomers to Canada and they always look at us Canadians weird when we bring it up – but they always love it when they try it!

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