Aniana del Mar Jumps In

Aniana del Mar Jumps In
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Release Date
March 14, 2023
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Aniana del Mar belongs in the water like a dolphin belongs to the sea. But she and Papi keep her swim practices and meets hidden from Mami, who has never recovered from losing someone she loves to the water years ago. That is, until the day Ani’s stiffness and swollen joints mean she can no longer get out of bed, and Ani is forced to reveal just how important swimming is to her. Mami forbids her from returning to the water but Ani and her doctor believe that swimming along with medication will help Ani manage her disease. What follows is the journey of a girl who must grieve who she once was in order to rise like the tide and become the young woman she is meant to be. Aniana Del Mar Jumps In is a poignant story about chronic illness and disability, the secrets between mothers and daughters, the harm we do to the ones we love the most—and all the triumphs, big and small, that keep us afloat.

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Interesting Combination of Swimming and Juvenile Arthritis
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In this novel in verse, Aniana's life with her family is portrayed as she struggles to balance her love of swimming with her worsening physical condition in Galveston, Texas. Her Dominican mother was traumatized by losing her twin brother to drowning in a storm, and as a result is uncomfortable with Aniana's love of swimming. Her father has been helping her sneak off to swimming and hide the signs of this from her mother, but sometimes too much swimming causes her joints to swell, and she often walks in the morning like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Eventually, she can no longer hide this, and her parents take her to the doctor. There are inconclusive tests, referrals to specialists, and finally, a diagnosis: Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. From there, steroids, pills for pain and inflammation, and physical therapy take over her life. She still hopes to try out for a swim camp, and while her father is amenable, her mother still is completely fearful any time Aniana is near the water. Even after the swim coach tells her mother that swimming could help the arthritis, she is unswerving. Will Aniana be able to convince her mother that she is more than her disease, and that she should be given the chance to live her own life, even with her limitations?
Good Points
I can't think of any other middle grade novels that deal with JIA, and few that deal with autoimmune disorders that drastically impair a child's activities. It's important to show diversity in physical conditions along with cultural connections, and there are relatively few novels with Dominican American characters other than Hilda Eunice Burgos' books as well. Aniana's insistence of continuing to swim despite the objections of her mother, and her practice of sneaking around in order to continue, seems absolutely true to life. There are lots of good details about swimming as well as dealing with her disease.

Novels in verse don't always tell readers about the poetic forms involved, but this mentions haiku and tankas. It relies heavily on shape poems, which never seem particularly poetic and are harder to read. This did have a more poetic feel than some other novels in verse.

This strikes me as one that fans of Fipp's Starfish might like, with the verse format and the health issues. While it's interesting to see Aniana's struggles with JIA, her mother's emotional reactions took much of the focus off Aniana's problems. Farid's Wave or Guidroz's Samira Surfs are also trauma informed novels in verse that might pair well with this book.
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