In the creative writing class that I teach for middle schoolers, we have been discussing what makes a good character. The kids have all kinds of insights on this. Twelve and 13-year-olds are brutally honest. One young lady said that she will stop reading a book if she doesn't like the name of the character. Several others agreed.
Now while I won't go so far as to drop a book just because I don't like a character's name, I have to admit that this does bother me tremendously. All that to say, Joshilyn Jackson's book The Girl Who Stopped Swimming had one of those names: Thalia.
I know. I'm so petty, but that name just does something icky to me. Fortunately, Thalia's sister, the main character, has a name that I think is one of the most beautiful: Laurel. My daughter. So here's my own weird twist on the book. I hate the name Thalia, and I love the name Laurel, but neither name fit the characters in the book. For me.
So what does all this have to do with the actual novel itself? Well, when things like that are off, the whole book is off. For me. The story goes that Laurel is led by a ghost to find a girl's dead body in her swimming pool. The girl turns out to be her daughter's best friend, and then the hunt begins: why did the girl drown? What was she doing in their backyard at midnight?
While she investigates the drowning, Laurel has to call in her estranged sister, Thalia, for help. Thalia, an actress married to a gay man, constantly criticizes Laurel because she lives in an affluent community. Somehow this ties into their mother's people coming from the trailer park. That whole subplot was disjointed and squeezed into the story. I've read reviews that indicate this is a powerful novel about poverty, but I just wasn't feeling that. Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina? Now that's a book about abject poverty in the South.
It wasn't a terrible book. I read it in about a day; it was riveting in spite of its flaws. But honestly, I was reading for plot, and in the end, I kinda went, "huh?"
I've read two other Joshilyn Jackson books and enjoyed them. In my review of Gods in Alabama I said, "Jackson does a fantastic job of capturing the quirkiness of the south without falling into stereotypes." (I could not say the same about The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.) My review of Between, Georgia, probably sums up what I'd say for The Girl Who Stopped Swimming: "I can't say I'd rush out and tell my friends, 'You must read this novel!' but it was a good filler between other novels."
Other Reviews of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming
A Bookworm's World
Blue Archipelago Reviews