Not Really Synchronized Swimming: Goldfish by Nat Luurtsema


Goldfish by Nat Luurtsema, Published by Feiwel & Friends, ARC given to me by a friend. Buy this Book: Indiebound // The Book Depository.

Louise Brown dreams of qualifying for the olympics. She’s waited for these trials her entire life. And then, she fails miserably.

Things couldn’t get worse – so, they get better. Lou finds herself agreeing to coach three boys training for a TV talent show. So cool! She’s training them as synchronized swimmers. Okay, slightly less cool. The boys and Lou form a unique friendship and they feel like they have a chance at stardom.

I am a synchronized swimmer. I love the sport. But synchronized swimming doesn’t get into media very much. Sure there are old 50s movies with that people say have synchronized swimming in them and are referenced every once in a while… But that’s not really synchro in the first place, and it is definitely not what it looks like today.

(here’s a video with some great clips if you have no idea what I’m talking about)

So of course I was super excited when MC sent me this book and said it was about synchronized swimming! Overall, I found Goldfish to be an entertaining and sometimes hilarious book with a pretty good story. Only… The swimming that was included wasn’t at all actual synchro.

For starters, I do want to say that the book does acknowledge that what the main characters are doing is not synchronized swimming. They talk about how they’re really just making up their own thing as they go along. They do keep using the term “synchronized swimming” though which I kind of had a problem with because… No. If anything I’d call what the characters practice more “water acrobatics” than anything else.

I knew going into Goldfish that the main character was a former speed swimmer, so I did expect a certain level of derision at the beginning. You have no idea how many people I’ve met who look down on synchro because they have no idea what it actually is. What I didn’t expect that this attitude would go on throughout the book, even while she was supposedly researching the sport.

“I spend every lunchtime and evening googling synchronized swimming but it all looks so boring” (88, ARC)

When I google “synchronized swimming” the first page contains the official USA website, the wikipedia page, a bunch of pictures of perfectly synchronized splits and arms, and a video of one of North Korea’s team routines. I don’t know about anyone else but it looks pretty impressive to me.

And then, in the last couple chapters…

“[A team] are doing proper synchronized swimming. It looks good, really pro, perfectly in unison. Maybe I’m biased but I think it’s a bit boring” (218, ARC)

After the whole book I honestly would have thought she’d have learned.

There were also a couple perpetuated stereotypes (flowery rubber swim caps, slow movements) that really bugged me. Okay, maybe it shouldn’t be the biggest deal because, yeah, this is a lot of what people in the world think of the sport. But for a book with synchronized swimming in the summary I really thought it would do better.

“… Surprisingly helpful if you’re trying to teach yourself synchronized swimming and Wikipedia doesn’t offer much” (103, ARC)

There are so many resources online to learn about synchro moves and doing it in general that this line honestly made me roll my eyes. This was a good enough book but any research that might have been done is seriously questionable.

On a related note, if you’re looking for a beta reader with 12 years of experience in synchronized swimming, please contact me.


4 Replies to “Not Really Synchronized Swimming: Goldfish by Nat Luurtsema”

  1. I was so intrigued when I saw on Goodreads that you were reading this book, but now it sounds disappointing. 🙁 It’s always annoying when a story just gets something *wrong* (four years ago, I read a book in which a character is supposedly taking geometry, but her coursework is algebraic, and I still haven’t gotten over it), but this book sounds especially frustrating. Like Xan said, “boring” is such a terrible word. I get so frustrated when I her someone repeatedly use the word boring, especially if they’re referring to something people put hours upon hours of time into. Maybe it’s not for you, but at least appreciate that SOME people find value in it. And if something as complex as synchronized swimming doesn’t interest you at least a little bit, maybe you’re the boring one. That would have been a great lesson to learn, but… *sigh* Sorry Goldfish wasn’t as good as you had hoped – I’ll be on the lookout for other books featuring synchronized swimming!

    1. Yeah, I totally agree. (and how could you mix up geometry and algebra??) I realize I will say that I find things boring every once in a while, but I usually agree they have merit to other people, and frankly the way it was talked about I think this book just didn’t know really anything about synchro. Thank you for the comment Emily, and if you find ever anything be sure to let me know!

  2. misrepresentation in sports is so disappointing; i’m sorry this book had to do that to you. i kinda know what you mean because ballet often gets bad stereotypes, but after reading your review i realize that synchro swimming has it worse. many people don’t even KNOW what it is, which appauls me because i remember watching it in the olympics. doesn’t everyone know and watch the olympics???

    it’s also rude how it seems the author didn’t even consider how synchro swimmer readers would feel after reading her book. i only know from your two snippets, but “boring” is such an awful word to describe a sport. if someone said that about ballet (which i know can be boring at times), i’d think “yeah, i only spent the past year trying to perfect this one moment, one movement and all you can say is boring.” it’s just so WRONG to say (esp in a book about the topic) and i feel personally insulted by her even though i didn’t even read her book.

    1. The main problem with the olympics and synchro is that the us national team is somewhat poorly run, so they don’t get the very best swimmers, and so our team often doesn’t qualify for the olympics/do well, and so US television networks don’t really televise the event… Even though frankly I’d love to just watch the Russian, Chinese, Spain and etc. teams live because they’re SO GOOD. I totally get what you mean with the ballet thing. What I find with sports like ours where we work to make it look “effortless” is that often people who are ignorant of the work think it must be easy even though it’s really, really not. It’s a misconception that often has to be worked with (ie people assuming that since we’re high in the water we MUST be standing on the bottom – which is actually a disqualify-able offense so no) but I guess I alone can’t educate every single person. Thanks for the great comment, Xan. <3

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