Gina's Reviews > The Girl Who Swam to Atlantis

The Girl Who Swam to Atlantis by Elle Thornton
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Goodreads Description- Nearly everything important in twelve-year-old Gabriella’s life that summer of 1957 can be traced to the river. On the North Carolina military base where she lives, she meets the African-American Marine Hawkins by the river’s brown-green water. When her father, the General, treats her as if she doesn’t exist, Gabriella’s determined to show him she’s good at something: she’ll learn to swim. And it’s the river with its mysterious worlds that leads to her mother.

At the river, Gabriella discovers Hawkins is far more than a servant in the kitchen of her father’s quarters. He becomes her swim coach and a person she can talk with—even about the tragedy of the youth Emmett Till. The fourteen-year-old was lynched two years earlier, his body thrown into Mississippi’s Tallahatchie river.

Emmett had been murdered for whistling at a white woman. Could her friendship with Hawkins endanger the tough Marine? It doesn’t seem possible. Until a sudden storm on the river changes Gabriella’s life—forever.

This is a great coming of age young adult novel set in the 1950's South, where relationships between black and white were tenuous at best. Gabriella, the main character, doesn't want to be sent back to boarding school and is determined to show her father, whom she calls the General, that she can excel at something. Gabriella decides that something will be swimming. She visits the nearby river daily, and with the help of her father's African American steward and fellow Marine, Hawkins, Gabriella meets her goal. However, along the way Hawkins has become much more than a steward and coach, he has become her friend and by this friendship she realizes that others definitely have a lesser opinion of Hawkins than she.

Winding in this story is the story of Emmett Tills, a young African Americna who was killed by 2 white men for whistling at a white woman. This is a historically accurate fact and would loved to have learned more about him, but upon thinking about the genre, I realized than anything more than the basic telling of the story would be too much for the pre-teen/teen audience that this is written for.

This is a refreshing change in YA writing. I simply cannot stand the recent trend of vampirism and/or fantasy in YA and this is a wonderful example of a YA story that teaches an important moral lesson about race relations set in a historical backdrop with just a touch of magical thinking. I can easily see this book become a standard for teachers to use in 7th through 9th grade literature class.

On a quick much lesser note...I love the descriptions in the beginning when Hawkins is teaching Gabriella to swim freestyle. As a former swimmer, lifeguard, and swim coach, the author does an excellent job describing the exact specifics of the stroke. I was impressed that she was able to put it into words so perfectly! It seems clear that she does have a decent swimming background.

I do recommend this book and would definitely encourage even my 4th grader to read this book as an introduction into good historical fiction written for a lower level YA. 4 stars!
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