Dryland, by Sara Jaffe, is a new (2015) young adult (YA) book. It’s primarily a coming-of-age story of Julie Winter, a high school sophomore who lives in Portland, Oregon, during the early ‘90s.
We join Julie in the midst of navigating her way through a seemingly typical teen year of school, yearbook tasks, discovering new rock music, half-hearted socializing with friends and family, and weekends of homework and excursions she’s outgrown with her best friend, Erika (whom she may also be out-growing), such as shopping at the River Walk.
Things start to shift, however, when Julie meets Alexis, who inspires her to join the varsity swim team, something Julie doesn’t tell her parents right away to avoid pressure, particularly in the form of comparison with her former Olympic-contender older brother.
While the almost stream-of-conscious-journal-like first person narration style takes a bit to adjust to, Dryland quickly becomes a compelling read as Julie pushes beyond former boundaries towards new people and activities, and most importantly, learning what she can about her absentee brother.
You also can’t discuss Dryland without mentioning another one of its key underlying themes, “sexuality.” Julie’s questioning of hers, especially in comparison to others, makes this book stand out from other YA books. Furthermore, the sexual orientation of other main characters raises interesting questions, including, how do you know if you’re “different” from the “norm?” Can sexuality be “in flux” as you age? Do some kids “dabble” beyond heterosexual relationships just to shock or use others?
The swim details of Dryland are better than average, but still a little off (e.g. we don’t call distance counters “number charts.”) But, such departures are not bad enough to distract swimmers from the plot.
While the swim-centricity initially attracted me to Dryland (of course!), about a third of the way in I realized I was much more hooked on the honesty in Julie’s vivid portrayal—a snapshot of a teen amidst rapid self-development, change, and discovery.
I highly recommend this book for any swimmer you know, but particularly teenagers. It’s superior YA writing, and its “can’t stop thinking about it” nature guarantees thought and discussion.
Next week: Another book review, Diana Nyad’s Find a Way
Next Week: Another book review: Diana Nyad’s Find a Way