Shannon McFerran comes to the blog today with a story about finding your joy and pushing limits and proscribed boundaries in
Initially I grabbed this title because of the ostensible setting: at the pool working on figures and routines in synchronized swimming. With a daughter who started in the sport at 6 and was competing for the next 8 or 10 years before scaling back, it’s a time consuming, hard graft of a sport – and usually (although not always) female centered. There are boys who swim, just not many, and Bart wants to be one of those boys.
And were it not from Bart’s true love for the feeling he gets from nailing the precision, making his body work and move in ways unexpected, this former ballet dancer and race swimmer has found a niche, it’s only up to the world to accept it. Bart’s always been his own person, and never particularly mired in labels or defining himself. Rightly so, he doesn’t understand why people won’t just let him be when he’s working hard at something he enjoys, and not worry about how to define it. From the subtle questions or even assumptions from his mother, his ‘bargains” with his father to pay tuition and training fees at the sports institute where schooling and training are intertwined, and his own refusal to actually define himself, but knowing that racing, no matter how good he is, isn’t what he wants, this is a discovery of self fulfillment and experimentation along the way to growing up.
Finding an instant connection with Erika, one of the synchro girls, and taking a ‘try it’ session with the team, Bart’s ballet training takes over and he realizes that just because it is swimming, it is a far different world he’s entered. Precision, core strength, musicality and even personality all play in to the sport, and while mixed duet teams are just starting to be a thing, there is opportunity to compete at high levels in a relatively uncluttered field. If he can work hard enough and improve enough to qualify. Pairing with Erika is unlike anything he’s ever known. The girls accept him, they laugh with him, and he and Erika can communicate without words, their duet is that good. And he loves her, even as he’s intrigued by dive boy and his perfect form.
Far less a story about the ins and outs and political maneuvering of a synchro team, with all of the petty jealousies and snark, Bart finds himself attracted to Erika, and even to dive boy, Dave, and frustrated with those who feel the need to express their views on what they ‘think’ he is: when his pairing with Erika is undermined by another swimmer on the team, one who will go to any end to make her own dreams come true, there’s a true question for Bart – does he swim an admittedly less intriguing duet with Chelsea and forget his work with Erika, one that may get him set on the track that he’s hoping for to the Olympics, or does he accept Erika’s decision to leave the sport and see if he can’t find someone else or somewhere else to pursue what he has come to love?
Lovely passages, characters you can’t help but be intrigued by and the frequent explanations of duet moments, particularly a lift in the final performance for officials at a meet / conference in California, this is a story of a boy working against multiple obstacles all borne of expectations and tradition, and finding his own unique way through them all. With heart and a true sense of someone finding his way, McFerran has made her characters compelling and uniquely honest, teens with goals and dreams that define their cores: hard work, diligence, determination all while allowing them room to grow and define their own places in the world.
Title: Synchro Boy
Author: Shannon McFerran
Genre: Coming of Age, Contemporary Teen Fiction, Teen Reads
Published by: Arsenal Pulp Press
Published on: 6 November, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ IndieBound
Sixteen-year-old Bart Lively desperately wants to feel comfortable in his own skin. Sure, he's a competitive swimmer, but being a jock doesn't mean he isn't the target of gay jokes, and the macho culture of his swim club is wearing him down. At the same time, he becomes drawn to the art and athleticism of synchronized swimming, the idea of the human form moving to music under water. So he jumps at the opportunity to become the first boy on the synchro swimming team, even if it means others start questioning his masculinity even more. He starts finding himself attracted to his teammate Erika, and when she asks Bart to swim with her in a brand new event, the mixed duet, he commits to taking them all the way to the Olympics. But Bart's difficulty at achieving the skills he needs, and Erika's sudden decision to quit the duet, threaten to derail his dream and kill what made the sport so liberating and alluring in the first place. And it doesn't help that as he falls in love with Erika, he's falling in lust with her enemy and synchro rival Chelsea ... not to mention a cute boy in the diving club. Ultimately, Bart will have to give in to his intuition that leads him to realize there are many ways to be a boy. If he doesn't, he'll not only lose his friendship with Erika, but his new Olympic dream--and the joy he feels as he dances in the deep.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Frequent references are made in the book to Bill May, an American mixed duets swimmer and the winner of the technical gold in 2015 at the Worlds. I’ve placed a video of a free routine with his partner Kristina Lum Underwood. If you’ve never watched synchronized swimming – this is worth a look – note the underwater time, the athleticism, and the way they mirror and oppose one another’s movements.