Monday, 23 May 2011

Review: Swim The Fly by Don Calame

Fifteen-year-old Matt Gratton and his two best friends, Coop and Sean, always set themselves a summertime goal. This year's? To see a real-live naked girl for the first time — quite a challenge, given that none of the guys has the nerve to even ask a girl out on a date. But catching a girl in the buff starts to look easy compared to Matt's other summertime aspiration: to swim the 100-yard butterfly (the hardest stroke known to God or man) as a way to impress Kelly West, the sizzling new star of the swim team.

The 1980s brought us Porky's, the '90s saw American Pie unleashed on an unsuspecting world, and at the tail end of the Noughties UK TV audiences were given the chance to follow the hilarious antics of Will, Jay, Neil and Simon in The Inbetweeners. All screen comedies that had great appeal to the teen male audience, which begs the question: why have there been so few books published during this time that deal with the problems teenage boys start to experience once their hormones begin to rage? I don't answer the answer to this question, but screenwriter (and now YA novelist) Don Calame didn't bother to ponder this question, instead he wrote the brilliant Swim The Fly, one of the must-read books for teen boys (and many girls) this summer.

Matt and his two friend, Sean and Coop, are not exactly the coolest kids at school, and as such every single male who find/found themselves in the grey area between uber-geek and cool will be able to identify with their characters and escapades. Even if you aren't/weren't one of these boys at school then I still guarantee that you know exactly what I am talking about, as let's face it, even the coolest boys in school have cringeworthy moments from time to time. I keep on wanting to say that this is The Inbetweeners in novel format, as pretty much every British teen boy will know exactly what I am trying to say, and this is also some of the greatest praise I can give to Swim The Fly. Just like that TV programme it had me laughing out loud, sometimes so much that I had to stop reading in order to get my breath back and wipe the tears from my eyes. The similarities between the two are lengthy: the filthy humour; fixation on sex and girls (with little chance of success); constant attempts to out-insult each other; and even the mix of personalities within the group of friends. And like The Inbetweeners, and American Pie before it, these boys in their quest to see a naked girl, at no point come across as seedy or perverted - theirs is a tale that is pants-wettingly funny, with a heart-warming poignancy to it.

For me there are two key elements to Don Calame's writing that set this book head and shoulders above many comedy books for teens. The first of these is the characters: Don Calame earned his writing spurs as a screenwriter, and he has used all of his skills in character creation in Swim The Fly. This never reads as a book where the author had thought up a series of hilarious set-pieces and wrote the characters to fit, instead everything that happens to these boys will have you thinking: "OMG, that could so happen", or "Ha! That happened to just last week", or if you are really unlucky "OMG, I am still trying to forget that incident from my teenage years". The secondary characters are also just as memorable, with my favourite being Matt's horny old grandfather, who has his sights set on a local widow, and whose behaviour is just as cringeworthy and immature as the boys' at times. The other standout element is the dialogue. Every single words these boys utter adds soomething to their characters and the relationship between them as a groups of friends, and the people they interact with.

I really can't praise this book enough in terms of its potential for getting a reluctant male teen reader to start and complete a book. It is also the kind of book that dads should read and laugh over with their sons. Mums and sisters, you also will find this an incredibly funny insight into the mind of a teenage boy, although you sons/brothers will not thank you for reading it as it will only giving you more ammunition when it comes to laughing at their antics. I cannot think of a more perfect read for boys this summer. My thanks go to the generous people at Templar for sending me a copy to review. Come back to The Book Zone on the 29th May for more Swim The Fly fun when Don Calame will be appearing here as part of the book's blog tour.

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