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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Big Swim, written by Cary Fagan. Groundwood, 2010. $9.95 ages 9 and up

"I argued that going to camp
might be a psychologically
crippling experience, especially
if I turned out to be the only kid
who didn't know how to steer a
canoe down a waterfall, or start
a fire in a downpour, or wrestle a
Mississauga rattlesnake into

I like Cary Fagan's writing and I like the stories that he tells. In this short novel, we meet Ethan whose parents have made the decision to go to Europe for the summer...on their own! Ethan is being sent to a summer camp and he is not keen to go. It is for Jewish children, it is in rural Ontario and it holds no appeal for an  adolescent boy who is a bit of a social recluse. Since he has no choice in the matter, he sets goals for survival. He doesn't want to be hated by everyone there and he hopes not to be the worst at anything.

As is likely to happen at summer camp, Ethan meets Leonard (nicknamed Legs) almost immediately. They have much in common and become fast friends. Legs has much previous camp experience and seems unfazed by the notoriety of being 'the worst'. Ethan is pleasantly surprised to find that his cabin mates are friendly. They give him the nickname Pinky and suddenly, he feels part of the group.

Things are progressing smoothly and then Zachary arrives. He comes with a history and it isn't long until  trouble is brewing. Pinky and Zach seem to be striking up a bit of a friendship; that makes for tension between Pinky and Legs. Zach is not a 'joiner' and doesn't care much for any of the planned activities; so, it surprises Pinky when Zach really wants to compete in the Big Swim.

The Big Swim is traditional at Camp White Birch. A swim across the lake and back is undertaken by older campers and camp counsellors, and is considered a bit of a legend maker for those who have been attending for a number of years. They are accompanied by lifeguards in boats. The  younger campers never take part.
 Because of his many refusals to follow the rules Zach cannot even watch.

Ever the maverick, Zach sneaks out to make the swim on his own. Pinky and Amber will witness it.

This is a book about friendship, and some of the issues that make it tenuous and yet, worth the work.

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