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Onsdagar på badhuset review

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Issue number: 2024:1


Onsdagar på badhuset

(Wednesdays at the Swimming Pool)

by Alma Thörn
reviewed by Maria Lassén-Seger

Alma Thörn’s debut for middle grade readers captures a recent trend. Whereas illustration has always been important for this age range, there is an increasing interest in visual narration. Hence, many books for middle graders today co-narrate in words and images in a way that resembles picturebooks and comics. Thörn is, in fact, a prize-winning cartoonist whose celebrated comic book Alltid hejdå (Always Goodbye, 2020) depicts divorce from a child’s point of view in expressive pencil-drawings.

Wednesdays at the Swimming Pool is told by third-grader Annika, who is a girl prickly on the outside, yet frail on the inside. Every Wednesday she visits the public swimming pool with her classmates, hoping to earn the desired swimming badges. Annika likes swimming, but her fear of entering deep waters darkens each Wednesday and makes her stomach ache. Her anxiety is grippingly captured in murky underwater drawings and in a cross-section of a stomach filled with grey, heavy stones.

Conquering fears is by no means an unusual theme in children’s books, but Thörn handles the subject with acute psychological awareness and a profound sense of everyday drama and comedy. Her portrait of Annika captures a young girl with strong likes and dislikes. The former include a love of scented erasers, colours, creams and pretty swimsuits, whereas the latter comprise ugly swimsuits – like the one she owns – and her annoyingly cocksure classmate Isak, who once called her a ‘waahmbulance’ when she cried in the bus on their way to the swimming pool.

Annika’s best friend Naima is cool and supportive, but swimming instructor Eva-Carina shows little regard for Annika’s fear of the deep end of the pool. ‘What is the difference when you know how to swim?’ she snaps and sighs when Annika has to stop in the middle of the swimming lane and turn back. How do you explain why it is so hard to enter the deep end to someone who thinks you should simply act without thinking about it?

Annika’s parents are divorced and the description of her eccentric artist father and her more down-to-earth mother is hilariously refreshing. Thörn cleverly nuances Annika’s dismissive view of her adversaries Eva-Carina and Isak by making them unintentional catalysts for her daring to conquer her fears and enter into deep waters. Her resolution goes to show that sometimes hitting the bottom is the only way up and onwards!

Wednesdays at the Swimming Pool is a life-affirming story of everyday existence’s splendours and disasters. Thörn masterly calibrates her portrait of a complex young girl whose feelings deserve to be taken seriously. The emotional impact of the story is heightened by the poignant illustrations that capture each scene with warmth, deep despair and tongue-in-cheek humour.

Alma Thörn. Photo: Alfabeta.

Onsdagar på badhuset

Alfabeta, 2023

107 pages

Rights: AnnaKaisa Danielsson, Alfabeta.

Alma Thörn’s autobiographical comic book Alltid hejdå (Always Goodbye, Galago 2020) was nominated for the August Prize in 2020 and awarded the Norrland Literature Prize in 2021.