Thursday, 30 June 2011

Review: Swim the Fly - Don Calame

Extent: 371 pages
Publisher: Templar
Pub Date: 1st June 2011

Fifteen-year-old Matt Gratton and his two best friends, Coop and Sean, always set themselves a summertime goal. This year? To see a real-live naked girl for the first time. But this impossible mission starts to look easy in comparison to Matt's other challenge: to swim the 100 yard butterfly (the hardest stroke known to man) and impress the gorgeous Kelly West.

I warn you, do not read this book on public transport unless you don’t mind people staring at you tittering away in the corner. Many books are funny but very few force eruptions of laughter from you when you least expect it, and Swim the Fly by Don Calame falls very comfortably into that category. This book is packed with all the cringey, awkward and embarrassing moments that plague the average teen boy’s life as the trio of 15-year-old boys try to fulfil their summertime goal – to see a naked girl. Cue one badly laid plan after the other, all ending in catastrophe. Each chapter is like one episode after another of a coming-of-age sitcom, only without the unfunny bits like drugs and underage pregnancy. It’s pure slapstick with enjoyable tributes to the edgy.

Don’s experience as a screenwriter shines through in this story as it reads like a film, going at a really good pace and employing realistic dialogue. Perhaps the greatest skill in the writing lies in the way he weaves the relationships between each character and gives even the minor characters a really well-developed personality. I think my favourite bit part character is Grandpa Arlo with his shameless pursuit of the recently widowed Mrs Hoogenboom. I would probably die of embarrassment if my grandfather said some of the things Grandpa Arlo does and even he is a victim of the bad plan epidemic. However, despite the cringeathon, there are some really sweet moments in this book, especially the relationship between the three boys, Matt, Coop and Sean. Their interactions are so convincing that you think you’ve been reading about them for years but you’ve only known them for a few pages. Their friendship is so strong and despite their constant larking about, it’s clear they would do anything for each other and this is evident in the one decent plan Coop and Sean make at the end to help Matt out in his race. I won’t spoil it!

There’s also a serious side to Swim the Fly – if you can believe it – and it’s a side that really shows up the beauty and subtlety of the writing. From start to finish there’s a tremendous sense of Matt’s journey from boy to man. I know it’s an age old cliché but it’s woven so subtly that you don’t really realise what’s happened until you start thinking about it. Matt starts off as a pretty superficial guy, desperate to fit in and ogling the hottest girl on the swim team, but as the story goes on he gradually finds his humanity, realising what kind of girlfriend he actually wants, what really matters in life and what his friends mean to him. This is the beauty of the story: couching a heart-warming journey within hilarious episodes, keeping the story light but maintaining a significance and a reason to actually read it. It’s not a throw away comedy, it’s a beautiful and funny story, a really clever plot that will have you thinking fondly of it, like an old friend, for many months afterwards.

And don’t think this is a story strictly for teen boys. Girls, Don has an amazing ability to get inside the mind of a teen boy so don’t miss out on this rare insight. Adults, this one will have you indulging that secret immature side of yourself – the one that laughs internally at rude jokes and still marvels at new ways to refer to secret parts. You know it’s there – do not resist!