I was a bit sad and mopey after my latest reread of His Dark Materials and wanted something completely opposite. I'd seen Nat Luurtsema at YALC on a panel about funny women (with Holly Smale and Katy Birchall, I think) and had made a mental note there and then to read her book as soon as I could find a copy, because long story short, she was hilarious.
Unsurprisingly, Girl Out of Water does not disappoint on the lol front- I laughed through pretty much all of it, punctuated with an actual snort at the 'Pew of Askew' when the Brown family crash a church service.
The girl of the title is Lou Brown and she is out of water because she has just failed to qualify for an intensive training camp for the team GB Olympic swimming squad, a goal that she has been working to since the age of 7. Even worse, Lou's team mate and best/only friend Hannah made the cut and is off to Devon to train and become a national hero. That leaves loser Lou literally high and dry; alone to face school a social outcast and Olympic almost.
After a summer of empty boredom, denial and rage, Lou, completely by accident finds herself coaching a team of far-too-popular-to-be-he-friends boys at an underwater sport she invented whilst moodliy floating around in the leisure centre pool. But at £20 a session, she'll give it a go, despite their swimming ability (poor) and general fitness levels (bad). Their ultimate goal is to audition for what is essentially Britain's Got Talent (mad- where are they going to get a tank for that?). She's got to also cope with being a social leper, supporting her distant friend through the mind-murdering pressure and stress of camp, and avoiding her former frenemies turned straight up enemies from the swim team.
I loved Lou as a character; she's hilarious, unconventional, irrational in her teenage logic and struggling to find her place in the world. I like that she's not particularly interested in clothes or boys or boybands. She wants to be interested in order to *seem* more 'normal' but her indifference just cannot be denied. She looks like a hipless, boobless swimmer, because even people with 0 body fat can still be insecure about their body. I also empathise massively with unreasonably tall characters, being one myself. I loved her family- super popular, trendy but actually sweet big sister Lav, mum (dating) and dad (unemployed, living with divorced wife, not a couple). Lou has a really odd home set up, which they definitely all acknowledge, but it seems to work. The book's main theme really is that sometimes unexpected things happen and you just have to deal with it and sometimes it's better than the thing you wanted in the first place.
Although obviously most people haven't failed to qualify for an Olympic event/sporting career, the idea that the thing you've pointed your whole existence in the direction of not working out is a pretty relatable theme. Whether that's a realisation that actually, this is not what you want at all, or because circumstances have conspired to prevent you from 'living the dream'. I loved the idea that a 'failure' led to the thing that Lou needed most of all, which was friendship and self-confidence, and that's what she came away with.
This book is hilarious; it has brilliant characters, an excellent voice via Lou, the not-good-enough-to-be-Olympic swimmer and a realistic, heartwarming ending that isn't exactly walking off into the sunset, but is believable and satisfying anyway. Definitely good for readers that enjoy the awkward- girl-fish-out-of-water narratives like Princess Diaries, Geek Girl etc. A welcome addition to the coping with school/being bad at teen life canon.
Can wait for Nat's next book.