Freedom Swimmer

Freedom Swimmer cover
Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim

By Wai Chim
Scholastic Press, 2021
256 pages

In Guangzhou province, China, 1968, teenage Ming lives with other older orphans and works in the fields like everyone else in his village. Six years before, Ming’s mother, like many in the village, died during the great famine that the government attributes to natural disasters when in fact it was the result of poor policy. Ming’s father died, likely shot, while trying to flee China by swimming to Hong King. Li is a member of the Red Guard sent to Ming’s village with other soldiers to learn farming. Li stands out among his comrades/fellow guards as someone who is observant and thinks for himself, and the two young men become friends. Li helps Ming see Fei, a girl he likes; Ming teaches Li to swim. Li doesn’t understand the village’s recent history, such as why everyone avoids the river (it’s where they took their dead during the famine), but his time in the village helps him begin to see that Mao’s words and policies are not necessarily good for everyone; a tragedy in his own family underscores this further. This riveting story, inspired by the author’s own father, uses fiction to illuminate aspects of Chinese history, politics, and policy during the Cultural Revolution. Above all, through its distinct and compelling characters. it reveals how the desire for freedom is sometimes philosophical and sometimes a matter of survival, and the line between them is indistinct. In a note the author tells more about this period of history and her own father’s story. ©2021 Cooperative Children’s Book Center