Published by Allen & Unwin on September 1st 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Historical
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson
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Ming survived the famine that killed his parents during China's 'Great Leap Forward', and lives a hard but adequate life, working in the fields...When a group of city boys comes to the village as part of a Communist Party re-education program, Ming and his friends aren't sure what to make of the new arrivals. They're not used to hard labour and village life. But despite his reservations, Ming befriends a charming city boy called Li. The two couldn't be more different, but slowly they form a bond over evening swims and shared dreams...But as the bitterness of life under the Party begins to take its toll on both boys, they begin to imagine the impossible: freedom.
Having parents who have immigrated from Asia in search of a better life – Freedom Swimmer is a story that holds true to my heart. It’s an eye-opening and humbling story about two brave boys with nothing but the courage in their heart and bravery in their souls – and I’m still reeling from feels after reading it.
It’s so easy to forget the luxuries that are afforded to us everyday while living in a first world country. Food, showers, education, freedom of speech – these are things that we should be thankful for everyday. Living in Communist China and being a part of Mao’s Red Guards, Li and Meng live a simple village life, where these luxuries aren’t easily accessible. Chairman Mao’s authorities control what they can do, how they can behave and what they can think (at least openly, anyway). It was disturbing seeing how easily the authorities could turn friends into enemies, or how they could so freely punish insubordination. Having that much power is never a great thing and this novel captures the impacts of his dictatorship on individual families.
Freedom Swimmer isn’t all doom and gloom however, it’s an honest, heart warming account of two friends – Meng, a village orphan whose father attempted to freedom swim to Hong Kong, and Li, a city boy who is a part of the Red Guards. Like any good male friendship, they make quick friends after rough housing and they soon become inseparable. As they divulge secrets to one another, re-educate the villagers with propaganda, and Meng teaches Li to swim, they develop a deep, honest friendship that felt really natural. We definitely need more books about friendship and I loved seeing how the two boys supported and encouraged each other in all their endeavours.
Meng was immediately relatable, as someone from humble beginnings who is willing to earn his keep. He is brave, smart enough to keep his head down but also pick up on social cues and keep his dreams of escaping to himself. It was absolutely adorable seeing him pine for his childhood sweetheart Fei, while navigating the village customs and Chinese traditions. I just wanted to reach out and mush them together!
Ambitious, dedicated and patriotic, Li is someone who is ingrained in his role as the Red Guards, until he gets cast out due to his family’s circumstances. Li goes through an internal struggle of questioning his beliefs and actions when it comes to upholding Mao’s values. I liked the easy way he could charm and relate to people and how he presented the softer side of the duo.
If there was anything I had to pick out, is that the last few chapters of the book seemed to be quite rushed over the course of a few years. I wanted to hear more about everyday life.
Written by an #ownvoices author, Freedom Swimmer really encapsulated the life of Communist China with a strong thread of hope, bravery and friendship. If you’ve been asking for more diversity, this book is perfect, with an authentic Chinese setting, charming characters and a tide of feels to boot.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Out now in all Australian bookstores for AU$16.99.
Thank you Allen & Unwin Australia for sending me a review copy.