Caterpillars Can’t Swim

Reviewed by Melanie on September 12, 2017


I began this book on my first break from work, around 9:45am this morning. It is now 2:40pm and I have been drug through the emotional wringer. I suppose I should begin at the beginning.

When the book begins we’re introduced to Ryan. We learn that he’s in a wheelchair and a great swimmer, it isn’t until later in the story that we learn that Ryan has cerebral palsy. On this particular day that the book begins, Ryan has decided to take a stroll before school to watch the river and sees a boy from school, Jack. Ryan rescues Jack from the river, and a bond forged by a secret begins.

Ryan has promised to keep Jack’s secret, it is after all, Jack’s secret to tell. What begins as a very awkward relationship in the beginning, becomes a very real friendship, with both boys supporting each other throughout most of the book.

Ryan’s best friend Cody, also a member of the Swim Team, and Ryan have been planning a trip to ComiCon for almost a year. Despite Cody’s opinion of Jack, Ryan invites Jack along. Jack begrudgingly agrees and what seems should be a trip to hell for all of the boys turns out to be a pretty incredible weekend.

During ComiCon, Ryan, who struggles to talk to girls, meets a really great girl who doesn’t notice his wheelchair and genuinely cares about getting to know him. Jack, terrified of people finding out who he really is, finds friends that he never expected.

After their trip, Jack decides that it is time to tell his mom his secret, she has a less than stellar reaction, and Ryan and Cody help to save Jack for a second time.

There is so much about this book that I love. The characters are well developed, and while they all have moments of self pity and doubt, they are all stronger than they believe they are. Ryan tries to be the friend that his friends need and while most people in Ryan’s position may have chosen to ignore Jack, Ryan embraces him and helps him to become himself.

I really enjoyed the book, as the five stars probably suggests, and look forward to reading more of Liane Shaw’s books. I was impressed with the depth of story, and especially with the characters and their interactions. The struggles that Ryan and Jack encounter make them more likable. While I do wish the book had an epilogue, or a couple more chapters to give us a bit more closure, such as Jack and Ryan being roommates at college, the ending was satisfying, even though it had me in tears.

Caterpillars Can't Swim Book Cover Caterpillars Can't Swim
Liane Shaw
LGBTQIA, Teens & Ya
Second Story Press
September 12, 2017

Ryan finds his freedom in the water, where he is not bound by gravity and his wheelchair. When he rescues his schoolmate, Jack, from the water their lives become connected, whether they like it or not. Ryan keeps Jack's secret about that day in the water, but he knows that Jack needs help. The school is full of rumors about Jack's sexuality, and he has few friends. Almost against his better judgement, Ryan decides to invite Jack on a trip to Comic Con he's planned with his best friend Cody, the captain of the school's swim team. The three boys make an unlikely combination, but they will each have the chance to show whether they are brave enough to go against the stereotypes the world wants to define them by.

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