Waterproof YA: 10 Swimming-Themed Novels

With summer in full swing, teens deserve lit that’s as cool and refreshing as a jump in the deep end. The following titles all feature a strong swimming motif, and are perfect for young readers trying to beat the heat—or those hiding in the cold, wishing for its return.


Aquamarine, by Alice Hoffman

This classic tale of female friendship (and mermaids) withstands the test of time and a disappointing movie adaptation, thanks to a spunky title character. Despite her scaly bottom half, Aquamarine is a rude and rebellious teenage girl, and YA needs as many of those as it can get.


Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz

At the heart of this story about cultural identity, homosexuality, and masculinity is the community swimming pool where two boys meet. As Dante teaches Aristotle how to swim, they both teach each other a great deal about how to live.







Dryland, by Sara Jaffe

Soft-spoken Julie is recruited to join the high school swim team by the effervescent Alexis, and hormonal heat ensues. Meanwhile, the HIV/AIDS crisis of the early 1990s threatens a close family member of Julie’s. The drama of this novel is so electrically charged, it’s amazing that Jaffe lets it happen so close to water.



Like Water, by Rebecca Podos

The heroine of this queer love story is grappling with a lot: her father’s Huntington’s diagnosis, her evolving sexuality, and her fear of getting stuck in her tiny New Mexico town. To make money, she performs as a mermaid at a second-rate waterpark, giving readers another example of a strong, rambunctious fish-girl.  







Neighborhood Girls, by Jessie Ann Foley

Though much of Foley’s whip-smart look at Chicago police brutality (and its effect on teenage girls) takes place during a frigid Windy City winter, an important recurring occasion is mandatory gym-class swimming at the all-girls Catholic school. What in heaven’s sake would the nuns do if someone snuck a boy into the pool to play?


The Principles Behind Flotation, by Alexandra Teague

In this offbeat delight, teenage A. Z. is a budding oceanographer who wakes up one morning to discover that a giant sea has appeared in her Arkansan hamlet. She must use the bizarre miracle as a way to get ahead in her field, not to be distracted by Skoal-chewing bad boys with a similar penchant for the water.








Ramona Blue, by Julie Murphy

This Julie Murphy masterpiece challenges a lot of assumptions: that sexuality is rigid and once-and-for-all and that natural disaster victims are fine and dandy as soon as the Red Cross leaves town, among others. At its core is Ramona, perpetually in a swimsuit, itching to get in the water and feel physically free from the weight of her problems.


Sisterhood Everlasting, by Ann Brashares

In this epic finale, Brashares returns to the four beloved friends of her Sisterhood series, one of whom takes a fatal final swim in the bright blue waters of the Mediterranean.








This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki

This wildly popular graphic novel is chock-full of gentle splashing in the lake where Rose and Windy spend their summers, as well as not-so-gentle jumps from childhood to adolescence.


We Are Okay, by Nina LaCour

This 2018 Printz Award winner is a soft and meditative LGBTQIA novel, rife with scenes of protagonist Marin swimming in her college’s empty lap pool over winter break, as well as flashbacks to her high school years on the wave-rocked beaches of the California coast.



About the Author:

Courtney Eathorne is a former Booklist intern, current reviewer, and a hungry, hungry bookeater. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Playwriting and can be seen leading food-and-beer bicycle tours around the city of Chicago with Bobby’s Bike Hike. Follow her reading and eating on instagram at @ceathorne.

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