Fifteen-year-old Matt Gratton and his two best friends, Coop and Sean, always set themselves a summertime goal. This year’s? To see a real-live naked girl for the first time. But this mission impossible starts to look easy in comparison to Matt’s other challenge: to swim the 100-yard butterfly and impress the gorgeous Kelly West.
As someone of the male persuasion, it’s always pleasing when a book of the non-action, non-supernatural variety about teen boys plops through the letterbox. Amazingly, despite the success on-screen of The Inbetweeners, Superbad et al., the YA male-skewed comic novel still continues to be a rarity, particularly in this country, where it’s practically non-existent. One male YA author told me that his comic boy novels are mostly read by girls anyway, which is probably why publishers aren’t all that keen.
Swim The Fly is by an American author (who lives in Canada) and it’s certainly a valiant stab at sating the appetites of those who wish their male protagonists to be average kids, rather than ones affected by illness, bereavement or vampirism.
The central trio of friends feel real and while the conceit is something we’ve seen a million times before (kid gets good at something to snog the girl of his dreams), there’s a reason it’s a format revisited over and over again. It works dramatically.
Where author Don Calame (a former Hollywood scriptwriter) falls down is in his throwaway handling of Kelly West, the perfect woman protagonist Matt is supposed to be changing his life for. She doesn’t feel real and you never get a sense that a relationship is ever on the cards. She’s immediately cast as a superficial buffoon, which you can get away with in a movie, but not in a 300-plus page novel.
Personally, I didn’t find it all that funny, despite my penchant for toilet humour (of which there is plenty). And there’s a sense Calame is throwing too many ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks, rather than trying to get into the heads of these characters. That’s why the banter works, but the emotions don’t.
Ultimately, that’s the difference between a decent romp, which this is – and something a little more impactful. Still, it’s the author’s first go and it’ll be interesting to see where he heads.