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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Young Fiction

Swimming Against the Tide by Helen Bailey
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books 2009
ISBN: 978-0-340-95030-2
Laura Lloyd review

In between attempts to thwart ‘The Kipper’ and fearfully avoiding aubergines, Electra Brown still needs to find time to conduct The Glam Plan.

Swimming Against the Tide is Helen Bailey’s third book concerning fourteen year old Electra Brown, (all having similarly water-themed titles of Life at the Shallow End and Out of my Depth) and the predecessor to Taking the Plunge. The series follows the ups and downs of a regular teenage girl’s life and as expected there is plenty of drama. Following on from Out of my Depth and her failed attempt to reunite her divorced parents, in Swimming Against the Tide we find Electra dealing with new troubles, most notably the impending arrival of her Wundacousin Maddy and the continuous onslaught of subtle threats she receives from her dad’s girlfriend The Kipper.

The cataclysmic succession of events is sparked off with Electra’s discovery of Max, supposedly her American cousin Maddy’s boyfriend. Therein lies the problem. Electra doesn’t have a boyfriend but has told Maddy she does in an email, a few weeks before the two are intending to meet. In a last-ditch attempt to at least compete with her cousin, Electra conducts the glam plan (involving exercise and cutting down on calories...so, basically a diet). Along the way, she learns that not everything is as it first appears.

Swimming Against the Tide is a light-hearted look at the customary life trials of most teenage girls, told from a witty and refreshing perspective. Amidst all of Electra’s endearing whining about normal, yet slightly shallow teenage woes, she somehow has to also manage to deal with the shock news that her grandma has bowel cancer. This part of the story is not heavily dealt with, yet Helen Bailey somehow manages to explain this in the same casual tone as she does for Electra’s lack of relationships, at times even calling it "butt cancer".

This book has all the typical ingredients for a girly, teenage tale. She has her two best friends, Lucy and Sorrel, her arch nemesis Tit’s Out and her two cronies Tammy Two-Names and Butterface. There is her story of unrequited love with Spanish Lurve God and...the complete opposite effect with Freak Boy (who turns out to not be a freak at all).
Having not previously read Life at the Shallow End or Out of my Depth I anticipated to find myself completely out of the loop concerning the trials and tribulations of Electra. Not so. Whilst there are a few nods towards prior events, the reader is not expected to have followed Electra from the first book. Another reason for my initial hesitation to dive right into this story mainly lies with the synopsis on the back. I had the impression that the target audience of the book would find Bailey’s language slightly irritating and very condescending, but this was not the case. She uses a successful blend of youthful enthusiasm and humorous intellect to relate to her teenage audience, without leaving them feeling patronised. At times, it’s easy to find yourself getting annoyed with Electra’s occasional shallow behaviour, but then, almost everyone behaved that way during their teenage years, right?

© Laura Lloyd March 2009
Laura is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

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