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Swimming Against The Tide Of Grief

With an arm, a brother and a first love, Paula Garner explores the shadow of loss in Phantom Limbs.

Swimming Against The Tide Of Grief

BOOK REPORT for Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner

Cover Story: Watercolor
BFF Charm: With Benefits
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: Straight Up Dude
Bonus Factor: Childhood Sweethearts
Relationship Status: Affectionate

Cover Story: Watercolor

The good thing about this cover is that water plays a big part in the story, and so the drops (done in watercolor, I see what you did there, designer) are fitting. The bad thing is, I now have "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" on a permanent loop in my brain. AND NOW YOU DO TOO. #sorry #notsorry

The Deal:

If his coach (and occasional friend) Dara had her way, Otis would be breaststroking towards the Olympics. He's got talent, and Dara's got drive in spades since a surfing accident left her without an arm and a swimming career. For Otis, life in the pool isn't as much about medals as it is a way to forget about the accidental death of his younger brother, Mason, a few years prior and the subsequent departure of his best friend and first love, Meg, whom he never heard from again.

Now Meg is back, and her sudden return triggers of a flood of memories for Otis and his parents. Still drowning in grief over the loss of Mason, Otis attempts to rekindle the connection he once shared with Meg, and in doing so, he opens up his heart to be healed... or to be broken all over again.

BFF Charm: With Benefits

True story, one of my main crushes in high school was on the swim team, so the minute I met Otis, I was like OH HI YES HELLO. But it's not just about the swimmer's bod (although it's a lot about the swimmer's bod). He's kind and compassionate, a real sweetheart, and he cares deeply for his parents and for Dara, who would test and then pulverize the patience of a saint.* All of that being said, he's a 17-year-old boy, which means that whenever Meg was around, he drove me CRAZY. Even those abs can't distract me from immature behavior, though they make for an excellent consolation prize.

*I love Dara--girlfriend is FIERCE BEYOND BELIEF--but she's a mess.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Given their childhood friendship and the lingering sparks of chemistry, the relationship between Otis and Meg has a certain Cameron Quick quality, but since this pair had a full blown romance before Meg disappeared (i.e. moved away), there's a deeper divide between them in the present. It's easy to see that they both still want each other, but the haunting loss of Mason has made everything complicated, and because they're teenagers, they can't just SAY WHAT THEY FEEL, because that would be TOO EASY, and thus, a score of 6 from the old lady.

Talky Talk: Straight Up Dude

Paula Garner has crafted a personable, honest voice for Otis, who is very much a boy without being, you know, too much of a boy (i.e. thinking about sex 24/7). He only thinks about sex 12/7, and his self-deprecation adds a nice touch of humor:

Why were women so sexy with eating? Jesus! What if I never developed bedroom skills that could compete with food? What if I actually got to have sex with Meg one day and she just lay back, bored, daydreaming about pulled pork sandwiches and chocolate éclairs?

Otis, I hate to break it to you, but food is almost always better than sex.

I also liked the realism of his self-consciousness, because even a teenage guy with muscles still has to worry about, well:

I also tested how the Speedo/drag-suit combo handled a complete erection, in case of an emergency. Not good. Not good at all.

As a portrait of grief, Otis has the necessary depth to explore the journey of mourning, and while the book lacks a certain edge, there are still moments that hit hard.

Bonus Factor: Childhood Sweethearts

As Otis and Meg revisit their past, we get a precious picture of their innocence and subsequent awakening, from 6th grade P.E. humiliations to Tilt-A-Whirls at the state fair to their first kiss.

Casting Call

Mitchell Hope as Otis

Willa Fitzgerald as Meg

Bex Taylor-Klaus as Dara

Relationship Status: Affectionate

This book didn't overwhelm me with emotion, nor did it captivate me with the power of its story, but thanks to the character of Otis, I'll always have a soft spot for it.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Candlewick Press, but got cocktails nor money in exchange for this review (dammit). Phantom Limbs is available now.

Posh Deluxe's photo About the Author: Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).