Thursday, December 17, 2015

Book Review: "Dryland" by Sara Jaffe

Ah, adolescence. Our adult lives may be difficult from time to time, but nothing beats the anguish and turmoil—real or imagined—of the teenage years.

Fifteen-year-old Julie Winter, growing up in 1992, is trying not to make any waves. She's following her best friend Erika, listening to her obsess over crushes and trying to be popular. Since her older brother, who nearly qualified for the Olympics as a swimmer, fled to Berlin without much explanation, she's trying to figure out what made him go, and who he really was.

When Alexis, the swim team captain, recruits Julie to join the swim team, it gives way to a lot of different feelings. She's anxious about swimming again but although she doesn't want to be compared to her brother she wants to make everyone proud. But more than that, she's confused by her feelings for Alexis, who has more than her own share of confusion where that is concerned. Julie doesn't know whether what she's feeling is right, or true, or if she should act on it, and if she does, what it all means. She finds herself turning to Ben, an old friend of her brother's, to help her understand both her own issues and her brother.

This was a very quick read—I read the entire book in a day—and Sara Jaffe really captured the voice and the angst of adolescence. I found the book moving and really well written, but I found it frustrating as well, because there's so much that remains unsaid for so long, in so many different areas. Julie herself is an interesting and sympathetic yet somewhat irritating character, because she's just so passive. I really liked Ben, though, and almost wish he was more of a factor in the story.

I wouldn't want to repeat most of my teenage years, but Jaffe gave those memories more than a good jolt with this book. It's an effective mix of the weighty and the frivolous issues we faced back then, with a good dose of nostalgia and emotion.

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