Freedom Swimmer Review: You Can’t Get More Literal Than That

September 23, 2016 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 5 stars, Books, Reviews

Freedom Swimmer Review: You Can’t Get More Literal Than ThatFreedom Swimmer by Wai Chim
Published by Allen & Unwin on September 1st 2016
Source: Publisher
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.



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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Tiktok@happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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23 responses to “Freedom Swimmer Review: You Can’t Get More Literal Than That

  1. This sounds like the perfect book, seriously. I think I saw this on your instagram and automatically added it to my TBR and reminded me of my mom's experiences during the cultural revolution.

    I'm going to have to look to see if I can buy this on TBD. My mom would really like this hahaha. Awesome review Jeann!
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    • I know, it's one of those books that I hold close to my heart you know? So many people could relate! Haha it would be perfect for her Val!

  2. I saw you talking about how amazing this book is on Twitter, so i had to read your review for it!

    I've read a book set in communist China before, and it was absolutely heartbreaking. It sounds like Freedom Swimmer might be the same.

    I really love the sound of the two boys, and how their friendship is so important to them. It's a shame that you felt like the last few chapters were a little rushed, especially if it was about how things changed in their lives!

    I'm so glad you found a book that moved you so much, Jeann. These are the kinds of books we read for <3 Lovely review, dear.

    • Yessss, Freedom Swimmer was kind of sad in a way that they were so constricted, but there was just lots of warmth and charm to it you know? I just loved the boys and their friendship and how they supported each other. Thank you Chiara! It was such a lovely book <3

  3. Fantastic review, Jeann! I am fascinated by Chinese history and I have so far not yet encountered a good Maoist China book that was also YA. Definitely adding this one to my TBR! If you're interested in more Chinese history books I highly recommend Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (if you haven't read it yet of course). I read and reviewed it a couple months ago and it was brilliant. It's a Memoir but doesn't read like a history book and really digs into the details of China during the 20th century 🙂
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    • Thank you Chantal! This one was written in such a relatable and endearing manner, I loved it so much! Ohhh I think I read that one in high school, my sister recommended it to me. I used to read a lot of Chinese memoirs back in the day too! There hasn't been anything quite like it in YA and I'm glad to have this book 🙂

    • Absolutely, I loved how it helped me understand more about China back in the days too which is good, and the male protagonists were also done really well.

  4. Emily

    This book sounds so interesting and authentic and it's something I want to learn more about. I'm really excited that it's by an #ownvoices author. Also I find we don't usually get much depth into natural, strong male friendships (at least the books I've read) so I'm definitely looking forward to reading this book! Great review Jeann 😀
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    • I loved how authentic it felt in the setting and the language and mannerisms that were used as well. I am looking forward to your thoughts Emily!

  5. Gosh, this sounds like such an emotional read Jeann, and so well written. It's the own voices reads like Freedom Swimmer that help readers like myself understand not only diverse backgrounds, but the struggle they face while we take our freedom for granted. There's something remarkable about Freedom Swimmer and I can't wait to read it. Awesome review Jeann <3
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    • It was so good Kelly, and I loved how it helped me understand a lot more about my cultural background as well. I am looking forward to your thoughts, lovely!

  6. Wow, this sounds incredible! First, I want to read it because it is definitely diverse, being #ownvoices, and a part of history I don't know much about- but want to! Also, the cover is incredible, which helps 😉 And then an awesome friendship between two male characters?! YES, I need this in my life! And then you know, swimming of course gets me every time 😉 Fabulous review, Jeann! I added this to my TBR, and my wishlist!
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    • Absolutely, there is so much gold here and it felt really authentic to the culture you know? Lots that I related with. I can't wait to hear what you think about it if you get the chance to get it Shannon!

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