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Swimming to America    by Alice Mead order for
Swimming to America
by Alice Mead
Order:  USA  Can
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Linda's family background is Albanian. She and her friend Ramon (who came with his relatives from Cuba) have a secret hideout down the embankment, overlooking Upper New York Bay. It's made from boards, crates and a blue tarp. Linda is smart at school, and helps Ramon, who finished his ESL course the previous school year. She has been offered a place at the prestigious Clemens Academy, but her mother says no.

Linda and her angry, scarred mother argue constantly, and she's sworn to 'never, ever be like her mother in any way. Not in one single detail.' Of course, readers know you should never say never, and it's gradually revealed how like her Ma Linda really is. Linda knows that her small sister Tina is American and wishes she were too. She dreams sometimes of coming to the US, frightening dreams of cramped spaces and of almost drowning. She sometimes asks Ma about the past, but her family keeps their secrets close.

Ramon's family has its troubles too. While his mother is more friendly and caring, his older brother Miguel is in constant trouble. Violent men are after him for money they claim is theirs, and he reveals Linda and Ramon's hideout to another man, who claims to be a Greek illegal immigrant. Linda feels sympathy and helps him. She wants adventure in her life and is changing in a different direction from her friend Chrissy and Donna - she doesn't share their growing interest in clothes and boys.

A school project and a stubborn, concerned teacher push Linda into pressing Ma hard for answers. She gains a new understanding of her tragic family background, her mother's 'brave and fierce' character, and of the possibilities in her own life. Swimming to America does a good job of showing how opaque the adult world can seem to a child, especially one subject to tumultuous teen emotions, and how family secrets can breed dangerous misunderstandings.

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