Teetering on the edge of adolescence, Pinky (aka Ethan) is a sensitive, smart kid who likes to write stories, hang out with his older brothers, and generally keep out of trouble. When his parents announce that he’s off to camp for the first time, he’s less than enthused. But he quickly bonds with his cabin mates at Camp White Birch, develops a crush on fellow camper Amber Levine, and has a typical camp experience – at least until the late arrival of reputed troublemaker Zach.
Rumoured to have done everything from stealing and crashing a car to setting a dog on fire, Zach is never given much of a chance by the other campers. Only Pinky makes an effort to reach out to him, discovering in the process that Zach is far from the bad boy he’s believed to be. A very innocent love triangle develops between Pinky, Zach, and Amber, who is the only other camper to see past Zach’s reputation.
Cary Fagan does a good job of capturing the emotions and lightness of tone appropriate for both the narrator and the target audience. Some of the cultural references may be lost on a generation of readers better versed in YouTube than PBS (Zach listens to Buddy Holly, Pinky refers to himself and another camper as “Laurel and Hardy”), but there’s certainly lots here to hold the attention of boys (and girls) still innocent enough to be more interested in Zach and Pinky’s friendship than with what the teenaged counselors are doing in the woods after lights out.
The book is also rife with lessons, from not prejudging others to facing one’s fears, though Fagan manages to touch on these issues without talking down to the reader or making the messages painfully obvious.
The Big Swim is a fun little book that will resonate with young readers, thanks to an entertaining story arc, believable characters, and just enough intrigue to keep attentions piqued.