Ryan finds his freedom in the water, where he is not bound by gravity and his wheelchair. When he rescues his schoolmate, Jack, from the water their lives become connected, whether they like it or not. Ryan keeps Jack's secret about that day in the water, but he knows that Jack needs help. The school is full of rumors about Jack's sexuality, and he has few friends. Almost against his better judgement, Ryan decides to invite Jack on a trip to Comic Con he's planned with his best friend Cody, the captain of the school's swim team. The three boys make an unlikely combination, but they will each have the chance to show whether they are brave enough to go against the stereotypes the world wants to define them by.
While I did enjoy "Caterpillars Can't Swim" quite a bit, it's definitely not like the type of YA story that I typically read.
The story is told entirely from the perspective of Ryan, who is tied to his wheelchair, due to cerebral palsy in his legs, below his knees. He's on the swim team and, other than his disability, he's a fairly average teenager.
Next we have Jack, who is bullied because he's gay, small and unassuming. He's deathly afraid to come out to his religious mother, which is one of the reasons that he ends up nearly drowning, then being saved by Ryan.
I'm not really sure how I feel about the tentative 'friendship' that ensues between Ryan and Jack, which doesn't really feel like a true friendship. It honestly feels like Ryan now has a duty to continue protecting Jack, especially from himself.
I'm not a huge fan of that. At no point during the story do I remember Ryan actually saying that Jack *is* his friend. The one point in the story where Jack asks Ryan to be there for him, while he finally confronts his greatest fear, Ryan wants to bail and only goes after being convinced by a pretty girl, then expresses that "I’m wishing I was anywhere else in the whole world." To me, that is not actual friendship.
This story feels more like an After School Special, about a handicapped, straight boy, whose life intersects, somewhat unwillingly, with someone very different from himself, and that someone just happens to be gay.
I do appreciate that Ryan, knowing what it's like to be different, does truly accept Jack for who he is; however, his 'friendship' still feels like it was held at arm's length.
I also do appreciate that Ryan's egotistical best friend, Cody, does eventually move from begrudgingly tolerating Jack (and his differences) to somewhat more of an acceptance, even if that only happens once Cody witnesses first-hand just how dire Jack's situation really is.
My friends will ask, so I'll just say it up front. This is not a romance. I definitely wouldn't categorize it as M/M, either, mainly because there is no second "M" to be found here.
Also, while the story ends on a positive note, we only know that Jack survives. At least for now.
I do wish there was an epilogue to the story, one in which we see Jack actually *thrive*. Possibly a few years in the future, when Jack has escaped the small, homophobic town and finds his tribe. His happy.
Overall, I'd rate the story at at just under 3.5 stars, as it was well-written and believable, even if it wasn't quite what I was hoping for.
My ARC copy of the story was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair, unbiased review.
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