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Fat Boy Swim    by Catherine Forde order for
Fat Boy Swim
by Catherine Forde
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Catherine Forde's debut novel is centered in Glasgow, Scotland. The author's hero is overweight, fourteen-year old Jimmy Kelly. Jim has a secret - he likes to cook, he's very good at it, and loves the words 'Jim the Chef'. Mum and Aunt Pauline (Pol) are the only ones who know Jim's secret ... so far. Actually, Mum and Aunt Pol have a few secrets they haven't shared with Jimmy yet either. St. Jude's School football coach GI Joe (aka Father Joseph) encourages Jim to do the best he can, but his teammates call him 'Jumbo Jimmy' and 'Piggy In a Blazer'. At times they rough Jim up physically. Overhearing people talking cruelly about him, Jim muses 'I'm fat, not deaf', and at times wishes 'the grass could swallow him up.'

Mum returns from bingo one evening with GI Joe in tow. Jimmy is surprised to see Father Joe, and Aunt Pol is even more astounded at the priest's re-appearance in their community. Father Joe has learned of Jim's cooking talent, and convinces him to act as chef for the fundraiser at the upcoming swim-a-thon. Father Joe is involved with a South African orphanage for children of all ages, some with Aids, and the facilities need funds for renovation and expansion. Joe tells Jim, 'if you met my kids, you'd give them the moon. Every kid deserves a decent childhood. By right. Health, Education. Nutrition. Love. Nothing to do with race ... A child deserves the chance to build on the talents it's been born with, not bury them.'

In exchange for the cooking, Joe will teach Jim to swim, recognizing that he has 'swimmer's shoulders'. Jimmy has been dreaming nearly every night about swimming, and about a 'Shadow Shape' apparition at the end of the pool, which he is never able to define. Then a new student, Ellie McPherson, arrives on the scene, and it's instant attraction for Jim. He comes to Ellie's aid when classmates taunt her about her special eyeglasses for crossed eyes. Jim describes how he feels when he encounters Ellie - 'jelly-baby legs', 'love-shaky hands', 'thumping in his rib cage - Baboom'. He describes her freckles as 'dots like cinnamon dust on cappuccino.' And when GI Joe convinces Jimmy to enter the swimathon, he sets a new swim-team record!

Catherine Forde writes with vivid imagery a commendable first novel addressing social issues. The use of Scottish brogue throughout the story is appealing, though I would have appreciated more descriptions of Scottish locations and people. But I enjoyed Fat Boy Swim and will keep an eye out for future books by Forde.

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