Book review: Swimming Against the Storm by Jess Butterworth

Swimming Against the Storm book cover

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

Twelve-year-old Eliza and her 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 her younger sister Avery secretly go searching in the swamp for the dangerous, wolf-like 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…

From the opening line – ‘Our land is sinking’ – Jess Butterworth draws readers into her story, transporting them to the muggy swamps of Louisiana and establishing a ticking clock within the narrative. We immediately see how much the land is a part of narrator Eliza’s life, and the effect its destruction has on the livelihood and well-being of her family. It is quite a feat to establish an entire setting, storyline and themes within one simple line yet Butterworth does it expertly.

The plot unfolds at a perfectly measured pace, with future plot points, such as the tropical storm, subtly foreshadowed.  The initial quest for the mythical loup-garou becomes a battle for survival as Eliza and friends Huy and Grace search the swamplands for Eliza’s younger sister Avery.

The relationship between sisters Eliza and Avery is exceptionally well-drawn, at once competitive and fiercely loving. They are distinct characters, with often conflicting opinions and desires, yet the bond between them is clear.

Eliza herself is a thoroughly likable and realistic character. Horrified by the reality of her parents’ shrimping business, she is torn between family obligation – the life she always thought she would have – and a growing awareness of the threat her community is under. By the end of the novel, Eliza has found her own path, bolstered by the courage and resilience demonstrated during her adventure.

I read the book within one sitting, utterly immersed in the plot and the landscape Butterworth evokes. With its strong emphasis on environmental issues, especially the pressure on young people to galvanise older generations into action, Swimming Against the Storm is a timely story that will work well with KS2 geography topics. Readers, from Year 4 upwards, will enjoy the mix of quiet reflection and the genuinely thrilling action scenes.

Review by ELS librarian Samantha

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