Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review of Sara J Henry's debut novel LEARNING TO SWIM

From the deck of a ferry crossing Lake Champlain, Troy Chance spies what she thinks may be a child fall from a passing ferry. She dives into the frigid water to his rescue. The child, Paul, speaks only French and is clearly terrified. When no anxious parents come forward to claim him, Troy faces the reality that Paul was thrown overboard to drown. 

To the uninitiated, ferry rides seem pleasant but,
in Learning to Swim, they are the scene of the crime. 

Paul is unwilling to talk about what happened to him. Troy realizes that taking him to the police may well result in Paul being at best placed in foster care or even risk his being returned to the very people who threw him into the water. Her protective instincts fully engaged, she decides to keep Paul safe and discover the truth about his identity and that of the people who tried to kill him without involving the authorities.

Troy is an intrepid heroine and though the choices she makes go against common wisdom, they make perfect sense. She is resourceful, intelligent and totally believable. In addition to some very cagey legwork, Troy utilizes online searches to learn more about Paul and the author integrates these seamlessly to drive the plot forward, not bog it down as can too often happen.

Intertwined with the riveting plot is the way in which her commitment to Paul brings Troy up against interior as well as external challenges. Reserved by nature, she finds herself opening up and reaching out to the people around her in new ways because of her quest to keep Paul safe. Her capacity for growth and willingness to experience discomfort add depth and dimension.

The supporting characters and her relationships with them are nuanced and multi-dimensional. Beyond being characters, these are people with whom I would love to be friends. Even though Troy’s friend Baker and her family make a brief appearance, they are engaging and fully fleshed out. I can only hope we’ll see more of them. (Happily, there is a sequel waiting in the wings.) Tiger the dog is also a stand out as are Troy’s roommates.

The story is set in Lake Placid, New York and the action crisscrossed the Canadian border. This moving between countries, combined with the French-Canadian language barrier, enhanced the sense of a woman out of her element and struggling in unfamiliar territory. It seems odd to consider the location exotic but it’s not one I’ve commonly read about and it worked remarkably well.

Learning to Swim ($24 Crown) Signed is the book I’m always hoping to read. In addition to plot, character and setting, the book was beautifully written. Sara Henry’s writing was a delight. My favorite aspect of the book was the way Henry brought together radically diverse and well-drawn characters that put differences aside to work together for the good of a child. This sense of good-hearted community set against one of the most evil climaxes I’ve ever read made it all the more chilling and left me eager to read more books by Sara Henry.

- Didi Bourbon 

Meet the Author...March 16

signs Learning To Swim ($24 Crown) her debut novel
4014 N Goldwater Blvd #101
Scottsdale, AZ
Visit the author's website

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