Friday, July 13, 2012

The Olympics Unshelved: Swimming

Our Friday coverage continues with Kady's look at swimming, comfort food books and Chris Crutcher:

Happy Friday! TGIF for realz. It has been so unbelievably hot in DC and Virginia, the air conditioning is broken at work and that desk fan just is not cutting it. What better way to cool down though, than a nice dip in a pool?

But first lets have a chat about comfort food. I know that in this kind of heat food sounds pretty awful, especially since comfort food normally comes smothered in cheese and dripping with bacon grease, but today I mean the type of comfort food that you read, not eat. Do you have a reliably favorite author? Someone you go back to again and again when you just want to be taken away by a story? They're not necessarily the books that rack up awards; but they're familiar and awesome and you can't stay away.

My number one comfort food author is Chris Crutcher. Every single book he's ever written has at least some of these key points: There are high school sports and a hierarchy; football and maybe wrestling equal popular kids, swimming equals the rejects. There are some racist, sexist big bads, usually at least one popular kid and one teacher/administrator, there's a girl (the protagonist is always a boy) and she has some kind of awful damage in her past, often it's a step parent who is the perpetrator of this abuse. And there's one amazing adult mentor who defies all the big bads to help our protagonist overcome and triumph. His books go straight for your heart strings, you know exactly what's coming, and I eat them up. Every. Single. Time.

Plus he's really the only author I've ever found to take on the world of competitive swimming, and he has two amazing books about this often overlooked (at least until Michael Phelps) Olympic sport. Let's go chronologically, shall we?

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is my all time favorite Chris Crutcher book, and it's pretty high up there in my overall all time favorites list as well. The boy is Eric "Moby" Calhoune, and if you can't tell from his nickname, he's fat; fat like a whale. For a long time the only person who would hang out with Moby was a girl named Sarah Byrnes. Not Sarah, always Sarah Byrnes. When Sarah Byrnes was a little girl, she was burned in a horrible accident and has scars all over her face and most of her body. But now, towards the end of high school, Moby's joined the swim team, is slimming down and actually making other friends. With Jody, the beautiful girlfriend of the most popular boy in school, beginning to take an interest in him, a swim team rivalry heating up and Sarah Byrnes becoming more and more withdrawn, Moby has to figure out how to be a part of his new life while still being there, or staying fat, for Sarah Byrnes.

Whale Talk is the last in Crutcher's unofficial swimming trilogy and Nico's number one swimming book (Nico's note: I <3 this book so hard). T.J. isn't into school sports, although he plays basketball and swims really well. It's a shame too, considering his school places athletics above everything else, and he could probably get away with anything if he'd just "become a team player" "stop wasting his potential" and "think about someone other than himself." When his favorite teacher, desperate to avoid becoming an assistant coach for the wrestling team, approaches T.J. about starting the school's first swim team, T.J. is struck by the pure potential to majorly tick off the administration and the current letter-jacket wearing high school royalty. T.J. hand picks the other kids, assembling the biggest bunch of misfits anyone has ever seen, only the most unlikely to ever wear a letter jacket make his cut: there's the obese kid, the one missing a leg, the shy bodybuilder, an obnoxious know-it-all and of course, the kid in special ed. As the season progresses, and the team fights its way towards a goal of everyone achieving a letter jacket, T.J. and the team grow closer together and what started as a way to stick it to the administration becomes a surrogate family. Which is good, since T.J. is going to need some help navigating the ups and downs of his small town and the small minded people who seem to populate it.

And to get you in the competitive mindset, here's footage from the 2012 Olympic Trials:

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