Kate’s Review: “We Don’t Swim Here”

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Book: “We Don’t Swim Here” by Vincent Tirado

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, May 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: She is the reason no one goes in the water. And she will make them pay. A chilling new novel for fans of Tiffany D. Jackson, Lamar Giles, and Ryan Douglass.

From the author of BURN DOWN, RISE UP comes a chilling novel told through alternating voices that follows two cousins as they unravel their town’s sinister past, their family’s complicated history, and the terrifying spirit that holds their future captive.

Bronwyn is only supposed to be in rural Hillwoods for a year. Her grandmother is in hospice, and her father needs to get her affairs in order. And they’re all meant to make some final memories together. Except Bronwyn is miserable. Her grandmother is dying, everyone is standoffish, and she can’t even go swimming. All she hears are warnings about going in the water, despite a gorgeous lake. And a pool at the abandoned rec center. And another in the high school basement.

Anais tries her hardest to protect Bronwyn from the shadows of Hillwoods. She follows her own rituals to avoid any unnecessary attention—and if she can just get Bronwyn to stop asking questions, she can protect her too. The less Bronwyn pays attention to Hillwoods, the less Hillwoods will pay attention to Bronwyn. She doesn’t get that the lore is, well, truth. History. Pain. The living aren’t the only ones who seek retribution when they’re wronged. But when Bronwyn does more exploring than she should, they are both in for danger they couldn’t expect.

Review: Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire for sending me an ARC of this novel!

I read “Burn Down, Rise Up” by Vincent Tirado last year, and then I had the pleasure of seeing them speak at ALA Annual last summer. Given that I liked “Burn Down, Rise Up” well enough and really enjoyed their talk on their panel, I was very happy when I was sent “We Don’t Swim Here”, Tirado’s newest YA horror novel that has a small town with secrets premise combined with a healthy fear of water due to a supernatural force. My love for urban legend horror knows no bounds, so I was very excited to read this one. After all, summer is right around the corner and I intend to spend a lot of time at the pool this year, so why not freak myself out about swimming in anticipation?

The most interesting aspect of this book to me was that way that Tirado explores the way that true tragedy can turn into community lore and mythos. Hillwoods is a small town that has what appear to be superstitions and rituals that are in place to appease a supernatural force, the biggest being that swimming isn’t allowed due to a vengeful spirit. But as Bronwyn explores this and pushes against this superstition as an ‘outsider’, the story starts to come to light of what actually happened and how actual historical fact can be twisted and inflated into something else. I don’t want to give anything away as I think that the reveals are worth concealing, but given that many urban legends and local lore probably have some basis in fact, I quite enjoyed the way that Tirado explores that in this book. I also liked the way that they addressed the realities of racism and oppression in a small town community, especially when there are few people of color living there, and how that has manifested over the years in American history.

In terms of the characters and the mystery itself, I thought that Bronwyn and Anais are pretty enjoyable perspectives to follow. They are fairly typical teenagers, and I liked the alternating chapters that shed insight into what it was like for an outsider as well as someone who had lived in the community all her life. That said, I didn’t think that either Bronwyn or Anais were super fleshed out or explored to the degree I would have liked, and their conflicts with each other felt a bit repetitive with Bronwyn seeking answers and Anais refusing to provide any, again and again. There were also a number of references to the various rituals and superstitions of the town that were mentioned in passing, but not really expanded upon. There just felt like there was a lot of potential that didn’t quite get met for me, and while the main thread was entertaining and interesting, there were multiple smaller threads that didn’t really wrap up in satisfying ways.

“We Don’t Swim Here” had enough connections to real life issues and metaphors that the strengths outweigh the weaknesses. I will be very curious to see if Tirado ever goes back to this story with the other rituals and superstitions that were left unanswered. Regardless, YA horror fans should probably check this out.

Rating 7: A horror tale about the crimes of the past and the way that tragedy can be passed down into lore, “We Don’t Swim Here” is entertaining young adult horror, though I would have liked a little more character exploration.

Reader’s Advisory:

“We Don’t Swim Here” is included on the Goodreads list “Latinx Books Releasing in 2023”.

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