Swimming to the Moon by Jane Elson

Received from NetGalley for review.

They try to imprison us but they have failed – we are free spirits. Come, shake out your pretty red hair in the moonlight.

Swimming to the Moon is so delightful and charming it made my teeth hurt, but I loved every second of it. It’s a wonderful middle grade novel, full of sweetness, friendship, and bravery, whilst also dealing with bigger issues such as death, grief, and finding your place in a world that doesn’t think you should be yourself. It is an absolutely perfect book for younger readers, but I know that many others will enjoy it regardless of age – I know I did.

The book is told from Bee’s perspective – she’s in Year 6, obsessed with Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, and has a fantastic sense of self thanks to her Great-Gran Beatrix who has sadly died when the novel begins. I love how well Elson has captured Bee’s narrative voice, it’s sometimes silly but always true, just like Bee herself who is so klutzy and kooky I couldn’t help but immediately fall in love with her. She doesn’t have the easiest of times – her dad is not the nicest and he always argues with her mum and puts Bee down, and there’s the usual girl politics going on courtesy of mean bully Chrystal Saffron Kelly – but she always remains true to herself with the dazzling style Great-Gran always told her she has.

The plot itself is very sweet and revolves around the ideas of friendship and bravery. A new boy, Moon-Star, starts at Bee’s school and they make a traveller pact – Bee will teach Moon-Star to read and write and he will help her learn to swim for an upcoming sponsored swim for the care home her Great-Gran lived and died in. Both have to overcome their fears – Moon-Star is a true gypsy child who travelled around with his free-spirited mother until Social Services got involved, and Bee has been terrified of water ever since she nearly drowned as a toddler. The friendship between Bee and Moon-Star was so lovely to read as it was pure love and acceptance between two children, without judgement – they accept each other completely and both learn from each other.

The more serious issue of death and grief, with Bee’s Great-Gran, and tolerance and acceptance, with Moon-Star’s Gran Old Alice are also addressed within the novel, in a very sensitive way. Bee’s sadness over her Great-Gran’s death is obvious throughout the novel but is portrayed in a way that shows how you must get on with life, remembering those you have lost with love and happiness – Bee finds courage and inspiration from her Great-Gran’s spirit throughout the novel, and pushes herself to be better because of her. Moon-Star’s Gran lives in an old-school wagon in the village and the way she and Moon-Star are treated is also handled exceptionally well; the Mayor gets it into his stupid head (he’s Chrystal’s dad, obviously) that they aren’t welcome and should be moved on but they won’t go without a fight. Both instances take incredible courage, something that Bee and Moon-Star have plenty of.

There is so much magic, nature, and whimsy throughout the novel that I can’t imagine anyone not liking it – it speaks to the child in everyone, the lover of nature, and believer of magic. Highly recommended for recapturing childhood magic and for children everywhere.

Read: July 14th-15th 2016

4/5 stars

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