Coming Up for Air
This was a tough one to grade. I loved Miranda Kenneally’s first book, Crossing Jordan, and ever since then, I’ve wanted to love her subsequent titles. I keep giving them a try, and they keep falling short of the mark. So while Coming Up for Air isn’t a bad book, it isn’t great either. It just sort of… is.
Maggie has spent her entire life working towards becoming one of the top female swimmers in the country. Her ambition is starting to pay off, her endless hours in the pool and sacrifice of a ‘normal’ teen life earning her a scholarship at UC Berkley and positioning her well for a chance to actually try out for the Olympics. But as she prepares to finish high school and head off to college, Maggie starts to second guess some of the sacrifices she’s made, especially forgoing the opportunity for any kind of love life. She wonders about what she’s missed out on physically and worries that her inexperience in the romance department will put her at a disadvantage when it comes to meeting guys.
Enter Levi, Maggie’s best friend and fellow swim champion. Levi is attractive, smart and funny, and best of all, he completely gets Maggie’s near-obsessive focus on swimming and becoming the very best she can be. When Maggie determines to gain some experience ‘hooking up’, Levi seems the natural choice to serve as her teacher. After some awkwardness, the two begin a physical relationship that is supposed to remain strictly academic.
But when their casual hook-ups start to feel more than casual and begin to affect their performances in the pool, both Maggie and Levi begin to doubt that their arrangement was a good idea. Maggie worries that it might be too late to go back to being just friends, but she recognizes that both she and Levi have worked too hard and too long to reach their goals only to have them sabotaged by romantic distractions. When Levi pulls a stunt that seriously undermines Maggie’s ability to maintain the focus critical for her to succeed, everything falls apart.
I think my biggest issue with this story is that it really doesn’t go anywhere. The conflicts between Maggie and Levi – the reasons that they can’t be together – feel manufactured and then the solutions to those conflicts also seem manufactured. It was as if they had to go through the motions of having a heartbreak just because jumping straight to a happy ever after would make the book too short.
For example, Levi does something not-very-nice, and it causes Maggie to do poorly in a critical race. However, the thing that Levi does is, honestly, not really that big of a deal. Even taking into consideration Maggie’s immaturity, she completely over-reacts. It’s as if Kenneally doesn’t want Levi to be the kind of guy who would really do something reprehensible that would truly cause Maggie’s upset, so she pulls her punch at the last second. Since this mistake of Levi’s is used as justification for Maggie to worry about ever getting hurt again, it needed to be big and serious, but since it wasn’t, the conflict feels forced. It just doesn’t work.
As a character, the best word I can manage for Maggie is flaky. Perhaps it’s a compliment to Kenneally that she so thoroughly manages to capture Maggie’s immaturity, but other than things that pertain to swimming, the girl is all over the place. In what I’m guessing is supposed to be a cute character quirk, Maggie can’t drive. She’s scared to death to get behind the wheel and when she does, she drives at thirty miles per hour on the highway. Instead of thinking that this is endearing, I kind of wanted to smack her for being that person on the road and also to tell her she should grow up already and learn to drive.
Maggie faces a giant obstacle in the form of a former teammate-turned-greatest-opponent named Roxy. Roxy is a text book mean girl of the swim variety who has zero redeeming qualities and never manages to turn any sort of corner towards decency. In the end, her sole purpose, I guess, is to help Maggie realize that success will only come when she manages to focus on improving herself rather than beating another swimmer.
Kenneally clearly did her research when it came to the swimming aspect of the story. She captures the immense amount of time and pressure that must go into becoming a high caliber athlete and does a great job showing how those who compete at these levels must retain laser focus on their sport. That said, as a person who knows absolutely zero about swimming as a sport, my eyes crossed somewhat when it came to keeping track of trials versus state championships versus Olympic cuts and the multitude of different events involved in each.
In the end, I just didn’t click with this one. I never disliked it to the point of a DNF, nor was finishing it a huge chore. And if you are a fan of Kenneally’s other books, you will probably enjoy Coming Up for Air. But it left me a bit water-logged.