The Girl Who Stopped Swimming ~ Joshilyn Jackson
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Laurel Gray Hawthorne has created a peaceful life in suburban Florida. David, her husband and world class super geek, is a successful coder; her 13-year-old daughter, Shelby, is a spectacular dancer and social butterfly. Laurel, herself, has found a fair amount of success as an artist and is generally content living in her quiet, gated community.
All floats smoothly along until Laurel, a notorious sleepwalker, takes a midnight stroll one summer night, finding herself face with one of Shelby’s friends who appears to be only partially there. Laurel is led to the backyard pool by the specter, where the very same girl is lying, lifeless, in the water.
Although the authorities are willing to let the incident pass as teenage negligence, Laurel is unconvinced. She enlists the help of her sister, an often estranged, sometimes beloved, always eccentric theater owner living in Mobile who is intent on shaking up Laurel’s picture perfect delusions of comfort. The duo begins digging in the town’s gossip circle as well as the family’s deep roots to uncover a darker mystery than the police suspect.
Joshilyn Jackson’s The Girl Who Stopped Swimming was my first mystery read (yes, ever) and my second southern literature. I feel a bit like I cheated in both categories. I expected wince-worthy gore and ghosts regarding the former and long drawn out descriptions regarding the latter.
I was pleased that neither turned out to be true. The writing moves quickly and energetically while still maintaining an authentic commentary on small town Southern living. The analysis of the region digs deeper than many pieces in the same vein, covering cultural and class diversity all within a day’s drive. Jackson also does a fantastic job of capturing tumultuous family dynamics, generation to generation without dragging the reader through too much backlog.
With respect to the supernatural portion, it was neither cheesy nor violent and at times even tender and endearing. Thrill-seekers shouldn’t be daunted by this lovey-dovy description, though; there is fun to be found! While some of the hard edges are softened by the emotional buffering of the family thread, there is quite enough adventure to satisfy seasoned mystery readers.
I picked the book up as light summer reading to clear my head and while the prose is easily digested, the storyline itself is deeper than the average page turner, making it a good, albeit substantial, beach read. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming gets two thumbs up from this novice mystery reader.