Despite the fact that I bought this book almost a year ago and it took me until now to finally read it, Swim the Fly has a special place in my heart. My Few But Dear Readers, I used to swim the fly:
Okay, so that photo actually isn't of me. Mostly because I was waaay too lazy to go through my parents many drawers of photos (The Father has always considered himself to be a bit of a photographer) and scan in a real photo of myself. It was much easier to do a google image search for "swim butterfly."
For those of you who cannot properly interpret my-lack-of-art-skills, the above image is a recreation of the time I swam the 100 Fly at Nationals, right after I'd eaten my way through the great white shark that had accidentally been released into the pool through a faulty drainage system. I won the gold that year. Mostly because none of the other swimmers were willing to swim through the shark blood and bits that my awesome kicks sent flying all over the Olympic-sized pool.
Make sense now?
Just to reiterate, no, the shark did not eat me. I am the tough one here. Not the shark. The shark is weak. I am a shark eater (This was a few months before I went vegetarian). Which brings me to the "Fear Me!" tattoo I've had since I was seven. The Mother and The Father thought the other second graders (who could already read "big" words) should be warned about my temperament.
The problem? Matt can't even finish one lap of butterfly, let alone compete. He begins to try different fitness regimens that are both painfully awkward and awkwardly painful (but hilarious for the reader) to get ready for the championship meet at the end of the summer.
To complicate matters, as the three boys make their first attempt at planning to see a particular popular girl naked, they are caught by Sean's sister and her friend. Now not only do they have their own promise to each other, but they also have to contend with blackmail.
Plus, Matt has to deal with his grandfather's problems along with his own. Matt's parents are divorced and his Grandpa Arlo lives with him, his mom and brother, Peter. The grandfather reminded me a lot of Grandma Mazur from the Stephanie Plum series, since he was such a fun and strong personality. Grandpa Arlo is trying to woo the widow who lives across the street. And for some reason, Grandpa's plans always seem to involve Matt's help.
This book is freakin' hilarious--laugh out loud multiple time, not just snort or chuckle once FUNNY. There were so many amusing scenes that stuck with me, I can't even claim one to be my favorite. (*Slight spoilers for the first-half of the book in the rest of this paragraph*) Was it the time Grandpa Arlo had Matt roleplay being the widow he wanted to ask out? Maybe. Was it the scene when Matt accidentally joined a swimmer survival course and wished for death? Possibly. The scene when Matt was dressed in drag and really had to use the bathroom, but wound up running into his crush outside the bathroom stall, and Kelly tried to figure out whether she knew this familiar-looking girl from ballet? Actually, no. That scene was so embarrassing for poor Matt I tried to block it out. And those are just in the first third of the book, so I'm not giving much away.
Swim the Fly is an excellent recommendation as a funny YA boy book. Calame seems to be one of those super-sadistic authors who excels at making their protagonists suffer in awkward and embarrassing ways. I mean, all authors have to be mean to their characters, breaking them up with their loves, sending their parents away, not letting them make some team, even orchestrating the occasional murder and causing every other form of suffering the author can imagine. But Calame tortures Matt. This, of course, translates to more fun for the readers and more sympathy for Matt.
I really enjoyed how bad, awful, terrible, horrible, no good Matt was at swimming the fly. This boy would drown if his only way out of a bathtub was to do a couple of strokes of the butterfly. As someone who suffered through swimming the fly every practice and every meet for about ten years, I like that the book shows respect for those of us who can swim the fly. But having said that, I also had trouble understanding exactly how awful Matt was. Why does he not improve? He is practicing. Do his arms and legs actually tear from his body when he tries to swim, leaving only his torso and head to slowly sink to the bottom of the pool? I do not understand.
The friendships among Matt, Coop and Sean are believable. Although, at moments, they did feel a little immature (but that's probably just my own mature "girl-ness" speaking). I dated my first boyfriend when we were both fourteen and I like to imagine he'd grown beyond doing some of the weird challenges that this trio torture/amuse one another with. But I'm guessing The First Ex-Boyfriend had similar ridiculous antics at some point. He probably just didn't want to tell me about them. Which was wise. And I'm not about to call and ask now. Little awkward.
There's quite a bit of bathroom humor--first there's poop, then there's vomit with fish bits. And later on there are farts. Fake farts. Real farts. Farts. Farts. Farts. Good icky times. It kind of reminded me of a somewhat-more-appropriate, PG-13 version of the American Pie movies. (The original ones. I don't dare let the straight-to-DVD ones potentially suck out my soul.) Matt has a way of getting into embarrassing situations that is similar to Jim's tendency to get into sexually awkward horrifying situations in the movie franchise.
As a nerd, it was hard not to read this book in terms of the way gender was presented. There's a lot of transgressing of those traditional gender line-thingies (usually with the consequence of embarrassment and humor...which it could be argued just reaffirms the traditional norms. Maybe). Even Grandpa Arlo notes the blur between modern gender norms when he sees Matt wearing an exfoliating mask:
"It's a mud mask." I touch the thick hard plaster on my cheeks. "It's supposed to help your complexion. I wasn't expecting to see anyone."
"Oh, that's your excuse? What else are you doing when you aren't expecting to see anyone? Painting your nails, maybe? Shaving your legs?
"Mom got it for me."
He frowns. "There used to be such a clear line between boys and girls. I don't know what the hell's happening to the world" (p. 217).There's also a cross-dressing scene (Sidenote--speaking as a girl who has helped a guy disguise himself as a girl during her teen years, there is nothing quite as much fun. Yay for putting makeup on guys!). Most of the girls are described in terms of their physical attributes (and not always the best aspects of their appearances--veins and sideburns are occasionally mentioned). And while some of the girl characters are sexualized, I never felt that Matt and his friends were complete horn-dogs. Horny puppies, maybe.
Every now and then their voracious, little, horny puppy drives took over and they learned that they were horny were-puppies who could transform into awkward peeping toms when they thought they had a chance at seeing a real naked girl without her knowledge. The boys do realize being peeping toms is not ideal....
But they do it anyway, unable to stop their horny were-puppy nature. (Also, why hasn't anyone written a YA novel including were-puppies?! They'd be cute! I want my were-puppies!)
So, on the stalker scale the book must go!
You'll notice that Swim the Fly is waaaaay down there in the "barely creepy" realm of stalkerdom.
And I'm guessing at some point there will be a drum set. And it will be on fire. Not metaphorically. But really on fire. In a purple room. Show of hands, who thinks I'm right?
I will, of course, be reading it. I love drum sets that have been set on fire. If we're lucky, it'll be before next September (when undoubtably there will be a book released from Sean's perspective I'm on to you, Don Calame! Maybe).
*Sigh* I take one book off the giant mountain of books that have to be read, only to add another. (I suppose I should be thankful, usually the conservation of energy sciency principle isn't quite so fair, since if the mountain of books were ever to topple, it would crush my pour little body and tear me limb from limb one paper cut at a time. Now there's a fun image.)
"Movies don't count," Cooper says. "The internet doesn't count. Magazines don't count. A real, live naked girl. That's the deal. That's our goal for the summer."
"Been there, done that," Sean says.
"Taking baths with your sister doesn't count, either," Sean." Cooper snorts" (p. 1).
"Don't you get it? You have to follow the natural way of things. It's like that picture in our bio textbook. First there's the monkey. Then there's the caveman. Than there's the human. It's the same with sex. First there's Internet porn, then there's seeing your first real naked girl, and finally its the dirty deed. You do want to have sex someday, don't you, Matt?" (p. 2).
"Without thinking, I look over at Kelly. She turns and our eyes connect. She pulls the lollipop from her mouth and smiles. I smile back. Her eyes are so clear, so green. They're the color of the water you see in those travel pictures. Where the man and woman are snorkeling and they're holding hands, and it's like they're the only two people in the world.
Kelly looks away, like she's shy or something. Still smiling. Her neck flushes slightly.
"Come on people," Ms. Luntz says. "Who is the hero here? Who is going to challenge themselves? Who is going to swim the fly?"
And it's like some force outside of me suddenly grabs my right arm and thrusts my hand high into the air, and the words tumble out of my mouth before I know what's going on.
"I'll do it."
The entire team turns and looks at me. I feel my face get hot.
"Matt Gratton?" Ms. Luntz coughs like she's got a fleck of popcorn stuck in her throat. "Well. That's...unexpected. But I guess...we don't have any other option" (pp. 24-25).
"There's something exciting about taking control of your life.
One breath in, two breaths out.
Setting your mind and then following through.
One breath in, two breaths out.
It makes you feel powerful. Like you can do anything you want.
On breath in and--
Gack! Fthew! Goddamn it!
A bug just flew up my nose. And it's buzzing like crazy. I exhale hard and a bee comes shooting out of my left nostril, flying off unsteadily.
I've lost my breathing pattern ow, and the full force of how badly out of shape I am hits me" (p. 49).
"Do you know what the consequences are for trespassing and for impersonating a country club member?"
"No," I say, looking back down, but I have a feeling he's about to tell me.
Ulf stands and smiles. "You have two choices, Mr. Gratton: my class. Or jail. What will it be?"
I hesitate, because it's a tough choice. I've never been to jail, but it's hard to imagine it's much worse than this class. Still, I can't go to prison. Mom would be pissed. "Your class, I guess," I say finally" (p. 153).
Tasty Rating: !!!!