Monday, April 23, 2018

Review: Swimming Between Worlds

Swimming Between Worlds by Elaine Neil Orr

Publication Date: 04/03/2018
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
Imprint: Berkley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 416

(Received for an honest review from Berkley via Netgalley)

Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound

Elaine Neil Orr on the WEB: WebsiteTwitter, Facebook, Goodreads

Excerpt from Swimming Between Worlds, courtesy of Amazon's Look Inside feature


From the critically acclaimed writer of A Different Sun, a Southern coming-of-age novel that sets three very different young people against the tumultuous years of the American civil rights movement...

Tacker Hart left his home in North Carolina as a local high school football hero, but returns in disgrace after being fired from a prestigious architectural assignment in West Africa. Yet the culture and people he grew to admire have left their mark on him. Adrift, he manages his father's grocery store and becomes reacquainted with a girl he barely knew growing up.

Kate Monroe's parents have died, leaving her the family home and the right connections in her Southern town. But a trove of disturbing letters sends her searching for the truth behind the comfortable life she's been bequeathed.

On the same morning but at different moments, Tacker and Kate encounter a young African-American, Gaines Townson, and their stories converge with his. As Winston-Salem is pulled into the tumultuous 1960s, these three Americans find themselves at the center of the civil rights struggle, coming to terms with the legacies of their pasts as they search for an ennobling future.


Author Elaine Neil Orr brings readers a novel set during the turbulent civil rights movement of the 1960's. Swimming Between Worlds is part romance, part political drama. Racial tensions and segregation were at an all time high when three young people from different walks of life, come together in a way that will change their lives forever. Swimming Between Worlds is a compelling novel that will draw readers back in time and make them consider the question of race and how it relates to us today, in a whole new way. A necessary novel!

What I liked:

Ok, i'll be the first to admit that most of the books I review do not generally have such an emotional and deep subject. Racial tension in America is still high and people view it through very different lenses. I grew up in the South and most likely see it  differently than someone who is from say, New York, or even overseas. A book like this one by Elaine Neil Orr shines a light not only on what the country was going through during the height of the civil rights movement, but what we are still going through today. Things have certainly changed, but in someways remain the same. And that in my opinion is a sad fact. Swimming Between Worlds is a more complicated book than the usual fare here, but it is definitely one I won't soon forget.

Tacker was a high school star, prepared for greatness. He was poised to become a great architect until things go awry during an assignment in Nigeria. He comes home in a bit of disgrace and ends up managing his families local grocery store, but while he was abroad he became enmeshed with the Nigerian people and their culture. His return to the South makes him start to question the laws and the lack of rights of African American's in his own community. Tacker's character is basically starting to see his world in a way he is unused to and it has a profound affect on him. Orr basically creates a coming of age story but it's not about becoming a man it's more about becoming a human, if that makes sense. It's about finding your own truth in the midst of a world that is telling you something entirely different. Tacker's character to me, was like the person who has been blind to something, seeing it for the first time. Extremely, well drawn characters are one of Elaine Neil Orr's strengths in this novel.

The other two young people in the novel Kate and Gaines are also very well drawn and will strike cords within the reader as well. Kate is recovering from the loss of her parents and seeing her find out things she never knew about them through old letters is both emotional and stirring to the core. Kate is essentially adrift in her life and when she is left the family home and it's contents she begins to turn a corner of her own. One where she finds out what is most important in life. Her relationship with Tacker creates the love story in the book, but it certainly takes a back seat to the political arena and the tumultuous setting of the book.

Gaines a young black man, who pushes the boundaries of the Jim Crow laws. He knows that change will never come if no one takes a stand. He is the type of character we all wish we could be in some ways. We see something wrong and we fix it. But obviously, life is often not like that. It takes a special person to carry out the difficult things. To put their life in jeopardy to make life better for the next generation. I had great respect for this character and people like him. Orr does such an amazing job of bringing her characters to life. By the end of the book readers will feel like they know them. That their stories are somehow intertwined with their own. Such amazing writing!

What I didn't Like:

There isn't much I didn't like here. There were parts of it that certainly bothered me. There were parts that were eye opening and challenging. The deep stuff often makes us uncomfortable. I laughed in parts, cried in others and felt generally overwhelmed at times reading it. There was love between Tacker and Kate and great friendship and understanding with Gaines. I don't think there is much to dislike about this novel except our own stupid behavior. 

Bottom Line:

I thought Elaine Neil Orr did such an amazing job of comparing and contrasting what Tacker was seeing both in Nigeria and in North Carolina. Her storytelling is vivid and captivating and it honestly made me want to visit Nigeria for myself. Her descriptions of the culture and rituals were exceptional. But she also made me really think about how we as a country were treating other human beings and how we are still treating them. There were parts of this book that made me cringe, that made me ashamed and made me wish things were different. I wanted to be like Gaines, but sitting here reading a book or writing a blog post isn't important is it? But what if it were. What if using my own small platform could make a difference in some small way... Maybe that's what this book is really about. 

Don't miss this one, guys. It's one of those books that matter.

Swimming Between Worlds is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.  

I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

About the Author:

Elaine Neil Orr is professor of English at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where she teaches world literature and creative writing. She also serves on the faculty of the low-residency MFA in Writing program at Spalding University in Louisville. Author of A Different Sun, two scholarly books, and the memoir Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life, she has been a featured speaker and writer-in-residence at numerous universities and conferences and is a frequent fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She grew up in Nigeria.


Mystica said...

Sounds such a good read.

justpeachy36 said...

It's an exceptional read, Mystica... you gotta try it.