Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems
George, Kristine O’Connnell. 2002. Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems. Illustrated by Debbie Tilley. New York: Clarion Books.
Award winning poet Kristine O’Connell George captures teen angst and adolescent insecurities in Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems. The various poems are told though the voice of a typical middle school student as she experiences the ups and downs of daily life as a young teenager. Her descriptions paint vivid poetic pictures that desire to be read again and again, “He stood up slowly,/ his stutter/ like the heartache/ of a trapped bird,/ wings beating/ against the windows.” Through her eyes we experience the insecurities “Whispers, sly looks, notes slipped into books /I look away—don’t need to see to know those notes are all about me”, embarrassment, “Changing in and out of gym clothes/so not one inch of skin shows”, frustration, joy, confusion and many other emotions associated with the universal coming of age event. The vignettes of her life are exposed through a variety of poetic formats such as Haiku, acrostic, rhyming, and free verse representing the ever changing evolvement of self-awareness. Kristine O’Connell George’s poignant account of the emotional trials and tribulations of the middle grades is a must read for any young adult. Debbie Tilley’s whimsical pen and ink illustrations provide a lighthearted look into the often comical world of middle school life. The narrator’s journey tugs at all of our memories, new or not so new, and provides us with a heartwarming reminder that we, as well, swam upstream and made it through, better and stronger because of it.