I am having a difficult time with Young Adult novels these days. Most of the time I find them too cheesy and not believable and this is why I usually keep my hands off them. Only when a blurb really piques my interest do I pick it up. Caterpillars Can’t Swim was one of those novels.
Ryan and Jack can’t be more different: Ryan sits in a wheelchair and swims successfully for the school’s swimteam. Jack on the other hand is a loner and the kid everyone picks on, since the school is full of rumors about his sexuality. When Ryan saves Jack from drowning, their lives become connected, whether they like it or not. Ryan keeps his promise to Jack and doesn’t tell anyone about that day, although he knows that Jack needs help. In an attempt to do so, he invites Jack to accompany him and his best friend Cody to Comic Con. Now the three will get the chance to defy society’s stereotypes.
With Caterpillars Can’t Swim, Liane Shaw addresses some very important subject matter and disability is one of those. Due to a medical condition, Ryan is tied to a wheelchair. Although he can’t walk, he is still able to compete in swim competitions for his school. Because the novel is told in Ryan’s POV, the reader learns a lot about being in a wheelchair in general, being the only person in town with such a disability and how people react to a person in a wheelchair. Ryan doesn’t want to be pitied or get privileges because of his disability, he wants to be treated like everyone else. He is not always happy with the fate that is his life, but he still makes the best of it and handles it with a great amount of self-confidence. Despite all the self-confidence, he still wonders why some people treat him like he has a contagious disease.
Some people seem afraid of me, like they’ll catch whatever I have and forget how to walk or something.
The other important subject matter Shaw addresses is homosexuality. In the book, the kids at Ryan’s high school assume that Jack is gay. They call him names, bully him and make his life miserable in general, even though they don’t know for sure whether Jack is gay or not. They just do it because it’s cool and Jack is an easy target. I don’t think one can generalize Jack’s situation in the book. I’m certain that there are many positive stories out there in this world about homosexual kids or homosexual adults, but I’m also certain that there are many stories that are just like Jack’s or very similar. And that fact alone makes me upset and sad. Why are people so malicious? There’s nothing wrong with being gay. What’s wrong is the people who make them feel they are not worth a dime.
Shaw’s story about Jack was moving and she conveyed his fears and anxiety perfectly. It’s the kids who suffer most from it. People shouldn’t try to fix them, they should accept and most of all love them for what and who they are.
No one cares if it’s a boy or a girl.
It’s just a caterpillar that changed into a butterfly.
And it’s okay and right and normal.
Besides the important subject matter, the story was nice and solid. I enjoyed reading the story from Ryan’s POV. He had a fun sense of humor and a fun way of seeing things. Although he felt uncomfortable at first, he handled Jack’s situation perfectly.
The ending, however, was not what I expected. It was abrupt and left me with many questions. I don’t know if the reader should make up his or her own mind about the ending or if Liane Shaw plans a sequel to this book. If she doesn’t plan a sequel, I would’ve wished for a better conclusion.
Be sure to check out Caterpillars Can’t Swim. The release day is scheduled for September 17th!
Thank you to Second Story Press and NetGalley for providing 5171 Miles Book Blog a copy to review for our readers!