Title: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming
Author: Joshilyn Jackson
Publisher Info: Grand Central Publishing, May 2009
Book Specs: 308 pages Book Category: Fiction, Mystery
Laurel Hawthorne is haunted by ghosts. During her childhood, she is haunted by her Uncle Marty. But Marty disappeared when Laurel and her husband David moved into the gated community of Victorianna. But one night, Laurel — a lifelong sleepwalker — is awakened by another ghost. This time the ghost is Molly — a neighborhood girl and a friend of her daughter Shelby. Molly’s ghost is brand-new — in fact, her body is floating in Laurel’s swimming pool.
Although Molly’s death is ruled an accident, Laurel cannot help but think that Molly’s ghost wants her to uncover what happened to her. Worse, her daughter Shelby is acting like she might know more than she lets on. And Bet Clemmens — a relation of Laurel’s who has come to visit with Shelby for the summer (a way for Laurel to make peace with her poverty-stricken roots of DeLop) — seems to be helping Shelby cover something up.
Laurel’s computer geek husband David is no help in a crisis like this. So Laurel turns to the only person she knows can help — her estranged sister Thalia. Thalia is a larger-than-life, straight-talking actress (she has her own rundown theater) who views Laurel’s marriage as a jail, and her home in the gated community as the prison cell. Against David’s wishes, Laurel brings Thalia home with her to help find out what happened to Molly. In the course of their investigation, the skeletons in their family closet begin to rattle their bones, Laurel’s marriage is shaken to its core, and the sister’s relationship is redefined and pushed to its limits.
I loved this book! The story flies along with numerous twists and turns, and the characters — especially Thalia — are wonderfully written and memorable. The supernatural aspects of the story are well-handled. Much like Alice Hoffman (who brings a kind of magic realism to so many of her books), Jackson is able to work in the ghosts in a believable and plausible way. You believe in what Laurel sees, but you also find yourself nodding your head when Thalia debunks Laurel’s ghost stories.
Although the primary story is finding out what happened to Molly, much of the book is really about Laurel and Thalia coming to terms with their childhood, their mother, what happened to Uncle Marty, and their mother’s hometown of DeLop. DeLop — a fictional town — is almost like a character in the book. The poverty and neglect that the town spawns affects everyone who comes in contact with it — whether they admit it or not. Laurel — who has tried to hide the reality of DeLop from David and Shelby — must finally come clean with herself about what is going on there.
Another rich subplot is David and Laurel’s marriage. Thalia has always made it her mission to end the marriage — which she believes is holding Laurel back from being her “true” self. When Laurel begins to doubt the strength of her marriage, the author does a wonderful and believable job of showing why a marriage that looks “all wrong” on the outside might actually work at its core.
I could go on and on about all the rich details in this book — Laurel’s quilts, the social niceties of a gated community, the use of the book Watership Down (which this book totally made me want to read!). I think Joshilyn Jackson did an amazing job with all aspects of this book. Bravo!
My Final Recommendation
This is a satisfying, fun and rich read. Once you start, you’ll get pulled into the story — so be prepared to dedicate some time to finish it up as you’ll want to know what happens sooner rather than later! I just adored Thalia, who I think added some needed humor to what is really a fairly grim and depressing story. This was a great read, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Thanks to Hatchette Book Group for providing me with a review copy.
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