Swimming Against The Storm by Jess Butterworth

The Blurb On The Back:

Our land is sinking.  It’s disappearing into the water.  And no one knows how to save it

Twelve-year-old Eliza and her younger sister Avery have lived their entire lives in a small fishing village on the coast of Louisiana, growing up alongside turtles, pelicans and porpoises.  But now, with sea levels rising, their home is at risk of being swept away.

Determined to save the land, Eliza and Avery secretly go searching in the swamp for the dangerous, wolf-life loup-garou.  If they can prove this legendary creature exists, they’re sure that the government will have to protect its habitat – and their community.

But there’s one problem: the loup-garou has never been seen before.  And with a tropical storm approaching and the sisters deep, deep in the swampland, soon it’s not just their home at risk, but their lives as well …

You can order Swimming Against The Storm by Jess Butterworth from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

12-year-old Eliza and her 10-year-old sister Avery live with their parents in Côteville, a small town in the Louisiana bayou where their parents make a living by shrimp catching.  But climate change has put Côteville in danger – the rising sea level meaning that houses have to be built on stilts to survive tidal surges – and then people from Soileron (an oil company that’s been drilling in the swamp) tells the community that the subsidence has reached a tipping point and people are going to have to leave their houses and move away.

Eliza and Avery are sure that if they can find something in the swamp that needs protection – an animal or a plant – then Soileron and the community will have no choice but to find a way to save the town.  So when Avery finds mysterious footprints in the swamp that look like proof of the mythological loup-garou (a type of werewolf) then Eliza and their friends Grace and Huy agree to go out with her to try and catch it.  But Avery goes missing while they’re in the swamp and when a storm begins to come in, Eliza and their friends realise just how dangerous a situation they’re really in …

Jess Butterworth’s contemporary ecological thriller for children aged 9+ does a great job of evoking the strange beauty of the Louisiana bayou and how it’s at risk from climate change while Eliza and Avery’s relationship captures the frustrations and rivalry of having a sibling.  However the plot relies on a series of foolish decisions that I didn’t believe of two swamp kids while I thought the corporate skulduggery plot was resolved too neatly.

The best thing about the book for me was the relationship between Eliza and Avery.  Having a younger sister myself, I thought Butterworth does a great job of depicting the responsibility that Eliza feels for her younger sister but also her frustrations at how she muscles in on experiences that Eliza wants for herself and the competitiveness between them.  I particularly liked Eliza’s confused feelings on whether to tell Avery how much she disliked shrimp fishing because she knows how it’s Avery’s dream to be able to go with their parents and she doesn’t want to let either Avery or her parents down.

Butterworth is also strong on evoking the beauty and dangers of the bayou and reading this book does make you feel like you’re there with Butterworth also doing a good job of showing how these habitats are at threat from climate change (with a mention of the impact from the Deepwater Horizon tragedy as well).  She shows the community of Côteville as a supportive body where people help keep an eye out for each other, although given that Grace and Huy’s father works for Soileron, I would have been interested to see how that impacted on their place within the community given some of the plot developments.

Unfortunately I did think that the plot was quite thin, boiling down to kids getting lost in the swamp, and part of my problem with this was that given that all 4 children have grown up in this environment, I didn’t believe some of the decisions they made, e.g. chasing off without a plan or forgetting key equipment.  It just seemed contrived in order to make the events happen.  The loup-garou storyline is also a bit of a McGuffin in the overall context of the novel and I was frustrated with how Butterworth leaves it as it seemed wishy-washy.  At the same time, a plot line involving Soileron, although quite frightening, also has a resolution that was way too pat and while I know that books for a middle grade audience aren’t going to reflect the brutalities of real life, I did think that this book creates a wholly unrealistic idea of corporate responsibility – especially in the USA.

For all this, the focus on ecology and messaging about the impact of climate change is a worthy one and there is much for kids to enjoy here.  I would definitely check out Butterworth’s other work on the strength of this even though the plot didn’t quite come together for me.

SWIMMING AGAINST THE STORM was released in the United Kingdom on 4th April 2019.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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