Barely Floating

Barely Floating
Age Range
Release Date
August 29, 2023
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A dazzling story full of heart about how one twelve-year-old channels her rage into synchronized swimming dreams from The Education of Margot Sanchez author Lilliam Rivera.

Natalia De La Cruz Rivera y Santiago, also known as Nat, was swimming neighborhood kids out of their money at the local Inglewood pool when her life changed. The LA Mermaids performed, emerging out of the water with matching sequined swimsuits, and it was then that synchronized swimming stole her heart.

The problem? Her activist mom and professor dad think it's a sport with too much emphasis on looks--on being thin and white. Nat grew up the youngest in a house full of boys, so she knows how to fight for what she wants, often using her anger to fuel her. People often underestimate her swimming skills when they see her stomach rolls, but she knows better than to worry about what people think. Still, she feels more like a submarine than a mermaid, but she wonders if she might be both.

Barely Floating explores what it means to sparkle in your skin, build community with those who lift you up, and keep floating when waters get rough.

Editor review

1 review
Swimming and Cos Play
(Updated: September 04, 2023)
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Nat lives in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles with her parents, who work at East Los Angeles College. Her brothers are older, and only Ramón is still at home. He's supposed to ferry Nat back and forth to the local pool, but is busy with a band, so often has their cousin Sheila watch Nat. In addition to her job in administration, Nat's mother is involved in a lot of local politics and protests, so sometimes doesn't have as much time for Nat as they would both like. When Nat, who has been betting other kids that she can beat them in a race, and taking money from many of them, is kicked out of the local pool for fighting with someone who insulted her cousin, she and Sheila go to another pool where the LA Mermaids artistic synchronized swim team trains. The sequins and swimming appeal to her, and after watching an Esther Williams film, Nat is even more enamored. She is a little concerned that because she is fat, people will think she can't compete, but the Mermaids are a very inclusive team. Her parents, however, don't like the fat that the national organization seems to prioritize the look of white, thin swimmers, and don't want her to join. Nat decides to forge their names of the permission slips, and talks Sheila into taking her. The team is more work than she thought it would be, and there are a lot of extra expenses, but Nat makes it work. Being on the team means that she spends less time with her best friend Joanna, with whom she has made plans to go to a cos play convention. It also means that she lies to her parents a lot. She manages to get rides to competitions, and the swimming does seem to make it easier for her to focus in school and helps with her anger management a bit. When a Mermaids competition occurs on the same day as the con, she tries to do both, but ends up disappointing Joanna. Sheila has her own secrets, and when those come out, she looks to Nat's mother for support. Nat's mother still is judging the Mermaids in ways that Nat doesn't like. Will Nat be able to finally come clean to her family, make up with her best friend, and continue with a sport she has come to really enjoy?

Good Points
Nat is a complicated character who is adamant about speaking her mind, and this sometimes gets her into trouble. The Mermaids are a nicely diverse team, and there is even one boy who competes with them, which is somewhat unusual. It's good to see tweens who are passionate about an activity, and there aren't that many books about swimming, much less artistic (or synchronized) swimming. The family dynamics are interesting, and even Nat's mother learns a little about how she treats Nat and falls into judging others herself. There are some good details about techniques that Nat uses to deal with her anger.

I loved that there were Spanish words and phrases, and I understand why there aren't footnotes or endnotes, but the meanings weren't clear from context. For readers who aren't able to easily look up meanings, it would have been nice to have some notes.

This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed the social emotional learning aspects of Fipps' Starfish or Melleby's The Science of Being Angry. There aren't a lot of books about swimming, so add this to a growing list that contains Morrison's Up For Air, Binns' Courage, Brown's The Girl in the Lake, and Christmas' Swim Team.
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