The Girl Who Stopped Swimming
By Joshilyn Jackson
I read this as an e-book, so here is the Kobo summary:
Laurel Gray Hawthorne needs to make things pretty – whether she’s helping her mother make sure the literal family skeleton stays in the closet or turning scraps of fabric into nationally acclaimed art quilts. Her estranged sister, Thalia – an impoverished Actress with a capital A- is her polar opposite, priding herself on exposing the lurid truth lurking behind middle class niceties. While Laurel’s life seems neatly on track – a passionate marriage, a treasured daughter and a lovely home in suburban Victorianna – everything she holds dear is suddenly thrown into question the night she is visited by the ghost of a her 13-year old neighbor, Molly Dufresne. The ghost leads Laurel to the real Molly floating lifelessly in the Hawthorne’s backyard pool. Molly’s death is inexplicable – an unseemly mystery Laurel knows no one in her whitewashed neighborhood is up to solving. Only her wayward unpredictable sister is right for the task but calling in a favor from Thalia is like walking straight into a frying pan protected only by Crisco. Enlisting Thalia’s help Laurel sets out on a life-altering journey that triggers startling revelations about her family’s guarded past, the true state of her marriage, and the girl who stopped swimming.
This was a great book! It’s the first one I’ve read by Joshilyn Jackson and now I want to read her other books.
Laurel has seen ghosts her whole life – one ghost, to be specific: her dead uncle Marty, her father’s brother. So it isn’t all that unusual when she sees the ghost of Molly, her daughter’s friend. Molly’s ghost leads Laurel to her body, floating in Laurel’s pool, and once the initial shock wears off, Laurel decides to get to the bottom of things.
To do so, she needs the help of her sister Thalia, an eccentric actress who clashes with quiet, reserved Dave, Laurel’s husband. Thalia is critical of Laurel’s charming suburban life, constantly trying to get Laurel to admit that she isn’t as happy as she appears to be. The tension and conflict in the relationships between these three characters was really well done.
Laurel’s mother is from a very impoverished community that she has long ago left behind, but Laurel makes a trip out there every Christmas to drop off food and gifts for the relatives who still live there. She has always tried to keep Dave and her daughter from that place, but her daughter’s growing curiosity has led to a friend named Bet, a young girl about Shelby’s age, who comes to stay with them when Molly dies.
While solving the mystery behind Molly’s death, Laurel comes to see her relationships with Thalia, Dave, her daughter Shelby, and her parents in a new light, and re-examines her memories and the truth of her uncle Marty’s demise.
I liked the way it was presented very matter-of-factly that Laurel has seen her uncle Marty’s ghost her entire life, and then sees the ghost of Molly. There were some eerie moments in the book, but it isn’t a ghost story as I had expected.
I liked the character of Laurel. I liked that she enjoyed her life and that she and Dave were so in love. Thalia, on the other hand, was not an easy character to like. She was always trying to throw a wrench in Laurel and Dave’s marriage, which made me really angry. She doesn’t see how Laurel can be happy in a life that is so different from her own, but in the end, I believed that she loved her sister and that they would be able to mend their relationship.
I also liked the character of Laurel’s husband, Dave. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting married later this year, but I was really happy to read about a married couple that was truly in love and happy and accepting of the other person as he/she is.
The ending and resolution of Molly’s death went in a direction that was a bit unexpected, but it was very good. I also loved the unraveling of the family secrets! Laurel begins to recall events from her childhood and this causes her to question things that she has long believed.
I’ve recently read some negative reviews, but many of them seemed to compare this book to Joshilyn Jackson’s earlier works, which I haven’t read. I thought this book was great and I definitely recommend it!