Holly and Ed meet in a swimming pool, which is awkward because they are both wearing “almost no clothes”. Not-so-interesting side tale – I met my closest friend’s husband for the first time whilst in my swimwear, and I can attest to this being all the kinds of awkward.
Holly goes to the pool because she needs “a place to go that isn’t home”; swimming is her escape from her life. She is unhappy, her mother is a hoarder (her house is literally full of stuff), she’s ignored by most people, she’s far from popular and she struggles to wrap her head around relationships:
“It’s not like I can watch my loving parents being physically affectionate with each other and think, ah- this is what it’s supposed to look like.”
Holly’s parents are not together, and her mum and step-father separated, leaving her with a sort-of step-sister, Lauren, and a lot of confusing feelings about herself and her family.
“It’s the strange thing about families like ours: we were one; then we weren’t any more. But you can’t just turn it off like that.”
The tension in her relationship with Lauren is clear quite early: you can tell that they don’t know what they are to each other now. It must be really confusing to go from being sisters to not having a relationship, and I really felt for both girls, and enjoyed seeing how they worked on this as the story progressed.
Holly is doing the best she can to keep on top of things at school and at home, whilst also working at the swimming pool. She’s exhausted with the stress of trying to adult for her mum (all of the gold stars to her, because adulting is hard enough to do for yourself, never mind for someone else). Then when she’s close to not being able to take any more, her mum falls over a pile of stuff in the house and breaks her leg.
Cressi from the swimming pool is an utterly wonderful human. She sweeps in to give Holly a break, telling her:
“You focus on school, and being sixteen. I’ll sort this stuff out. That’s what friends are for.”
She is supportive both of Holly and her mother and goes out of her way to help them both, showing that humans can sometimes be decent. She helps to get on top of the house, pulling off a seemingly impossible cleaning job, and Holly realises that the cleaner the house gets, the brighter she feels about her life.
Holly’s life is changing. She’s starting to make friends at school, get a grip on her relationship with Lauren, and then there’s Ed. Ed is something of a mystery. He’s clearly been wealthy at some point, but his designer clothes are looking a bit worse for wear, and he’s clearly hiding something.
Honestly, these two melted the frozen cockles of my heart. They are so cute! Husband and I met in our teens; we didn’t quite meet at a swimming pool, but early in our relationship I spent a fair amount of time at swimming pools watching him play water polo, so this gave me a lot of the nostalgic feelings. Rachael describes Holly’s first love beautifully:
“My knees just go ZING and my stomach does this flipping over thing.”
I could not get enough of these two. They are the cutest couple and I was rooting for them right to the end. I loved this story. Get yourself a copy of My Box-Shaped Heart and you can love it too.