Author: Catherine Arguelles
Publication date: September 12, 2022
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary/Mystery
My rating: 3.75/5 stars
Summer may be over, but that’s no reason we can’t enjoy a middle-grade summer swim team mystery! Flip Turns is an easy read, replete with humor, the casual bluntness of young teenagers, and the trappings of a classic whodunnit, but also deals with serious topics (including stalking-like behavior and anxiety) in a context that’s approachable for younger audiences. I’m so glad to have been a part of TBR and Beyond’s tour for this book–read on for my thoughts on the book!
Thirteen-year-old Maddie just wants her classmate, Lucas, to leave her alone. He keeps asking her out—as if she hasn’t already said no a thousand times! Focusing on her competitive swim team, the Electric Eels, Maddie tries to ignore him, hoping he’ll go away.
But then, when someone starts sabotaging Maddie’s family-owned pool—glass on the deck, ketchup in the pool, followed by a “code brown”—Maddie worries it’s her “admirer” trying to get even. After Maddie’s parents rule the problems at the pool just harmless pranks, Maddie and her best friend Ez decide to investigate on their own. Could it be Lucas? And how can Maddie get him to leave her alone once and for all? The future of the Electric Eels and Maddie’s family legacy are on the line.
I want to lead by noting that my “former swim team kid” heart was glad to see a depiction of summer swim team that got all the details right—the events, the long days, the age groups, the swimmers all writing events on their arms in Sharpie, the order of lane priorities, the breakfast sandwiches at meets. (I will say, kids in 13–14s doing ten 50s on the :55 sounded miserable, though that may be rooted in my lifelong hatred of freestyle.) I could superimpose almost everything in the story over the pool that I spent so many hours at as a kid and teen, over endless years, and that was pretty special.
Now, nostalgia aside, let’s talk about the book!
Right off the bat, this book deserves a shoutout for being one of those very rare stories about a character who is 13. Middle-grade often favors characters who are 11 or so; YA usually starts with characters around age 15 on the younger end; age 13 is sometimes a no-man’s-land in fiction, and readers right on the cusp of high school will likely appreciate.
I loved the framing of the story through Maddie’s eyes. Her anxiety was often at odds with her desire to handle problems on her own—so many of her choices to go things alone were rooted in the fact that her parents had taken to babying her, always assuming that she “couldn’t handle” stressful information or situations. It was rewarding to watch her come into her own and tackle hard questions without parental intervention, while simultaneously seeing ways that her anxiety made things harder for her—inability to sleep, a panic attack, and so on. And as someone with anxiety, I also loved seeing the destigmatization of therapy and medication, even in a younger character—the story doesn’t make a big deal about it, and it’s just something that she has dealt with for a long time.
I also seriously appreciated that the book dealt with the very sticky situation of a romantic suitor who won’t take no for an an answer. The very opening of the book (as also featured on the cover) involves Maddie figuring out what to do about this boy giving her a romantic snow globe (sparkly, heart-shaped, with two polar bears) as a gift—when she has explicitly rejected him multiple times. His advances continue to be a subject of both discomfort and frustration for Maddie throughout the book. The situation was one that I’ve never seen depicted with younger characters, especially when the boy’s behavior isn’t violently abusive; this example of someone who acts “nice” but is actually failing to respect boundaries, and how Maddie dealt with him, is one that will be valuable to young readers. (Also valuable for young readers: the deconstruction of the toxic Friend Zone concept, and watching Maddie’s blossoming healthy first romance with the new boy in town, providing a pointed contrast!)
And speaking of healthy relationships, the friendships in this book were excellent. My personal favorite was Maddie’s best friend Ez, an extremely dedicated swimmer who also has alopecia. (Side note: pretty sure this is the first time I’ve read a fictional character with alopecia?) Ez is a fiercely loyal companion but not without her own stresses and insecurities. Ez and Maddie’s friend group, including a pair of rambunctious boys who love pretzels (very on-brand for boys that age, honestly), was always delightful and never tried to shoehorn any weird boys-and-girls-drama into things. And even Maddie’s relationships with her older siblings felt convincing—the mix of teasing and support hit perfectly.
Now, there were a few places the story faltered. The ultimate culprit in the swim club’s sabotage was not very surprising, but the ride to get there certainly strung the reader along for a bit and still left some satisfying sleuthing. One particular act of sabotage turned so dangerous, it was genuinely shocking to me that (a) the saboteur didn’t realize how dangerous it was, and (b) the consequences for it weren’t greater. While I did like that the author seemed very current with the technology the characters use—one girl is a TikTok star, the parents rely on their kids to do social media outreach, and at one point Maddie notes that her parents take care of Facebook promotion because only the adults use Facebook anyway—sometimes it felt like we were being needlessly subjected to endless notes about one character always filming TikTok dances (and always, always saying it’s for TikTok, never just saying “a video”) in her swimsuit/cap/goggles and getting friends to join in her content. Like, we get it, you know what TikTok is. The thing is, those complaints are things that I, as an adult reading this book, found a little off-putting, but I know younger readers might not have the same issue with them.
If you’re trying to hold on to the last vestiges of summer for just a bit longer, this might be just the fun, fast-paced story you need.
Rep: MC with anxiety, SC with alopecia, Asian-coded SC, two sapphic side couples
The other hosts on this tour are hard at work creating all sorts of posts, pictures, and more. Check out the full schedule HERE!
About the Author
Before writing novels, Catherine earned a BA in English with a minor in Women’s Studies, and a MA in Psychology, Counseling. She has worked as a counselor with middle school students, a fundraiser for non-profits, and is the proud parent of two feminist readers. She lives in Northern California and her favorite event was once the 100-yard backstroke.
Thank you to TBR and Beyond Tours and the publisher, Jolly Fish Press, for providing me with a copy of this book as part of my participation in this tour! All opinions are my own.