Book review: Dryland, by Sara Jaffe

Jaffe DrylandJaffe, Sara. Dryland. Tin House Books, 2015. 240 p. PB. $14.95 ISBN 978-1941040133.

It’s 1992 in Portland, Oregon, and 15-year-old Julie is slogging through an existence that seems boring and full of things to disdain, from possible boyfriends to trinkets at craft fairs. Her older brother Jordan, a one-time Olympic swimming hopeful, lives in Germany and, for some reason, her parents rarely mention him. Julie also swims but disdains trying out for her school team until its captain Alexis starts encouraging her, thus causing Julie’s world to shift in unexpected directions.

As her relationship with Alexis ebbs and flows, along with her team swimming success, Julie slowly begins to realize she is attracted to girls in general and Alexis in particular. She also crosses paths with Ben, a long-ago friend of her brother who may know more about Jordan and his recent past than does his sister. Eventually, Julie must face significant truths about her sibling as well. Her coming of age during this particular school year is future-altering on multiple fronts.

Julie’s first-person narrative unspools at a measured pace; her attraction to Alexis reveals itself only gradually and, in my view, very effectively. In the opinion of this non-athlete, Jaffe also offers keen detail about the inner workings and demands of competitive team swimming. Dryland doesn’t overpower the reader with blockbuster themes, over-the-top emotions and high drama. Rather, its strength lies in Julie’s quietly cumulative psychological journey through forces, events, and realities she must confront.

Dryland is recommended for LGBT young adult fiction collections, though any adult reader will appreciate Jaffe’s skill in bringing us an introspective narrator coming to grips with life one piece at a time, and memorably.

Cathy Ritchie
Acquisitions/Selection Services
Dallas (TX) Public Library

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