Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review: The J.M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society by Barbara J. Zitwer

Are you the same person now that you were five years ago? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty? We all change and adapt over time and sometimes that means that we are very different than we once were. But what happens to a life long friendship when each of the friends has changed? Is it something to fight for or is it something to let go of, holding only memories of the past? These questions and more are at the heart of Barbara Zitwer's charming new novel The J.M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society.

Joey Rubin is an architect who rarely gets full or even some credit for the phenomenal work that she does, putting in crazy hours and sacrificing any semblence of a personal life for her job. Her last relationship was with a coworker who wanted to keep their relationship a secret and she's drifted away from all of her friends. She is truly the definition of a workaholic but one who never gets the glory, entirely a behind the scenes workaholic. So when her boss is injured in an accident and Joey has to run the presentation on converting Stanway House in England, the lovely estate where J.M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan, into a hotel, a presentation on which she's done most of the work, she is a nervous wreck. But she hits it out of the park with her homage to Barrie and her ideas merging preservation and improvement and she is tapped to go to England to oversee the initial stages of the conversion, a trip that not only gives her the chance to live in a place instrumental in the writing of her favorite book but also to visit with her childhood best friend now living in England.

When Joey arrives in England, she reconnects with Sarah and finds herself surprised at how different the two of them are from the once inseparable, closer than sisters friends they used to be. She is a dedicated career woman while Sarah has settled into chaotic domesticity. They just don't seem to speak the same language anymore. And when Joey goes out to Stanway House to start her project and encounters a group of elderly ladies swimming in a freezing cold pond in the middle of winter, through her connection with them and their example of lifelong friendship and the work behind it, she will come to realize that it isn't her differences from Sarah or their physical distance from each other but her isolation and lack of care in maintaining their relationship that has caused her to forget how to be a friend. With the help of Aggie, Meg, Gala, Viv, and Lilia of the J.M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society, Joey will not only plunge into the waters of the pond, but she will plunge back into life, with all the connection, messiness, and relationship work that it implies.  Ultimately, Joey's trip to England refreshes and renews her. It gives her confidence in herself. And it helps her achieve a better, more satisfying balance between the personal and professional, teaching her the importance of relationships.  Maybe she'll even open herself up to the possibilities with Ian, the dour Stanway House caretaker.

This is a truly lovely book about women's friendships. It is lighthearted and enjoyable but it doesn't shy away from the truth that a real friendship, one worth holding on to, takes work, hits bumps in the road, and faces roadblocks but is ultimately worth it for the love and support and vital connection that it provides. The characters are all quirky and delightful. Joey can be a bit irritatingly obtuse at times but that just makes her realistic.  The love story woven through the plot and complicated by her burgeoning friendships with the elderly ladies is a bit abrupt but in this novel's Neverland, it is the love between friends rather than romantic love that is really the main focus. An escapist read, fans of women's fiction will thoroughly enjoy this gentle and appealing novel.

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. This sounds really good and is going on my TBR list. Loved your review.

  2. Pinned this one to my TBR list


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