The Girl Who Stopped Swimming is the newest novel by bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson. A mix of mystery, parenting, paranormal, and the drama of family dysfunction, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming will quickly pull you under its spell. Jackson pulls on her own southern heritage to create a realistic-feeling impoverished rural Alabama town, and then she pulls on her life in the suburbs of Atlanta to create the contrasting perfect suburban neighborhood. The characters that spring from those contrasting towns are also drawn from people the author has observed, and they have an authentic feel.
When we first meet Laurel, the main character of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, she is living a quiet life as a mother and fabric artist in the suburb of Victorianna, far from her mother’s impoverished roots. Laura had grown up with ghosts at her childhood home and in her mother’s rural hometown of DeLop, she had never seen any ghosts in Victorianna. Or, she hadn’t seen any ghosts until she was awoken by the ghost of her daughter’s best friend, who leads her to her body floating, floating in Laurel’s pool.
Laurel’s family is quickly pulled into the mystery of 13 year old Molly’s death; the police are questioning 13-year-old Shelby, Laurel is having problems trying to rescue Molly, and husband David has called in Laurel’s mother for assistance. The formerly peaceful home is filled with tension: Laurel’s worries about what she might have seen the night Molly died, Shelby’s silence, the presence of a teenage guest from DeLop, marital tension between David and Laurel, and then the intensity of emotions that comes when Laurel brings her sister Thalia home. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, pulls you into the characters’ emotions, and you won’t want to stop reading.
Each of the characters in The Girl Who Stopped Swimming jumps off the page, with incredible depth of emotions and personality. Laurel and Dave’s characters go far beyond the meek suburban wife and stereotypical computer geek that one sees at first glance, with hidden depths that we see deepen during the course of the novel. Creating 12-13 year old kids is hard, but Jackson pulls of Shelby and her DeLop friend Bet; they aren’t perky and chatty, they are quiet and somewhat sullen, and thereby real.
Even the towns in The Girl Who Stopped Swimming are filled with personality, with none of the cardboard stereotypes that would have been easy to write. Jackson has based the fictional town of DeLop on a former mining town, and has based Victorianna on the prosperous suburbs around Atlanta. With both the towns and the people, there is enough reality to make them ring true, but enough fiction that Jackson can manipulate them to comply with her storyline.
With The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, Jackson has written a book that will capture your attention, a book where you can identify with something from all of the characters, and a book that will fully engage you in the joy of a good novel. I was stuck in Boston’s North Station for an hour after missing a train, but I was thrilled to have a (relatively) quiet place to read The Girl Who Stopped Swimming! This book can balance family drama, mystery, ghosts, and unique characters with a plot that doesn’t stop moving. You will be pulled into the story, and maybe it will make you happy you missed your train! The Girl Who Stopped Swimming is a great pick – grab a copy and check it out for yourself and then read Joshilyn Jackson’s other books: Between, Georgia and Gods in Alabama!