Reviews /

Swimming on the Moon

Authored by Brian Conaghan
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

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Swimming on the Moon is narrated by twelve-year-old Anna. When she begins her story, she is sitting on the edge of her bed, daydreaming, recalling a happy family holiday – a holiday when the camper van bobbed up and down with laughter, when her Mum sang along to the songs on the radio and her parents were affectionate with each other in the hot Scottish sunshine. Anna does this frequently throughout the novel; it’s a way of escaping the escalating tensions in her parents’ marriage – the arguments, the shouting, the anger, and the blame. These tensions are observed by both Anna and her twin brother, Anto, who is autistic, in some deeply moving scenes.

Anna is a keen dancer and when she makes the squad to perform in the European Street Dance Championships in Italy, she sees an opportunity for bringing the family together again. It is this plan which drives the main plot of the novel.  Anna’s need to keep her parents together and protect her twin means she hatches a plan for another happy family holiday.

It was Anna and Anto’s story that drew me into this novel. Anna has a deep and binding love for her brother; they find strength and joy in one another. Anna and Anto have created methods of communication which allow Anna to understand and act upon her twin’s feelings and frustrations. She feels a sense of pride in Anto, but we also see her irritations with him. She feels a responsibility for her twin and rages at those who can’t understand his differences. This is handled with care and sensitivity by the author. Anna is an engaging narrator. She is empathetic and intelligent beyond her years. But she is a child, and she is confused. Anto and Anna are incredibly likeable characters, as are their flawed parents.

Swimming on the Moon does not offer idealistic solutions to this family’s problems, but it does offer a sense of love, deep connection and hope. It is a story told with a light hand. Throughout the novel, there are some moving moments. It deals with serious themes that might be upsetting for some readers, not just parental separation, but the anxiety of forming new friendships and autism. I would recommend this book for Year 5 upwards. It would make a great addition to school and classroom libraries. For adults reading this alongside a child, there is much to discuss and explore, but it may need to be handled with care.