Swimming Between Worlds by Elaine Neil Orr

Swimming Between Worlds

Elaine Neil Orr

A Southern coming-of-age novel that sets three very different young people against the tumultuous years of the American civil rights movement.

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From the critically acclaimed writer of A Different Sun, a Southern coming-of-age novel that sets three very different young people against the tumultuous years of the American civil rights movement...

Tacker Hart left his home in North Carolina as a local high school football hero, but returns in disgrace after being fired from a prestigious architectural assignment in West Africa. Yet the culture and people he grew to admire have left their mark on him. Adrift, he manages his father's grocery store and becomes reacquainted with a girl he barely knew growing up.

Kate Monroe's parents have died, leaving her the family home and the right connections in her Southern town. But a trove of disturbing letters sends her searching for the truth behind the comfortable life she's been bequeathed.

On the same morning but at different moments, Tacker and Kate encounter a young African-American, Gaines Townson, and their stories converge with his. As Winston-Salem is pulled into the tumultuous 1960s, these three Americans find themselves at the center of the civil rights struggle, coming to terms with the legacies of their pasts as they search for an ennobling future.

Advance Galley Reviews

Kate and Tucker have pasts and present to overcome, the difference between Africa and their life in the US is a stark contrast as well.

This is the first book I have read by Elaine Neil Orr; Ms. Orr is a Southern writer with an African background taking on the history of racism in the South. The book presents the story of two people trying to bridge the paradigms they were raised with against their own thoughts about what is right. A book that confronts the history of racism in the United States and propels the conversation forward as it continues even today is an important one to read. Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2018/06/swimming-between-worlds.html Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program

I think this book was beautifully described but I'm not sure it fits the description. It felt through most of the book that Gaines was a side note and that made it hard to get why he is considered central to the story. It was a slow read and hard to get through. I'd say 3 stars because the prose is beautiful and descriptive and lush but it was a very slow read and I'm not sure it fits what it's billed as.

I thought I would love this more. I think I would have probably enjoyed this more written from Gaines point of view.

Like others have stated in their reviews, Elaine Orr's "Swimming Between Worlds" is not a fast read; however, its slow pace seems to mirror the pace of the mid-twentieth century South as well as that of Nigeria. The white characters, Tacker and Kate, are fully developed, but Gaines, the young African-American key character, is seen mainly through the eyes of Tacker and Kate. Rather than seeing this as a weakness to this novel, though, I felt that it was a realistic portrayal of the challenges of bridging racial divides and of the assumptions whites make about blacks, even when they are striving to be actively anti-racist. The novel's conclusion conveys hope for future generations as we continue to wrestle with many of the same problems and issues explored in "Swimming Between Worlds." I'm glad that I read this novel, and I thank Penguin First to Read for the opportunity to do so.

I sadly only got to the first two or three chapters and the download expired.

A boring story about white people getting their toes wet during the Civil Rights Movement. There is no “collision” or anything close to dramatic with respect to Tacker and Kate and their “involvement” with civil rights. The Black characters would have been so much more interesting had they been actual, fleshed out people rather than props in the background to provide something for the couple to kind of talk about. For example, I had so many basic questions about Gaines (the Black guy) that were never addressed. If they were, I must have missed those 1 or 2 sentences of added depth. Was he actually from Winston-Salem? Did he go to high school there? Why was he at Fisk - in Tennessee - rather than attend one of the several HBCUs in NC??? There were no less than TEN in existence during the time period in which this story is set. Was he going to go back to school? What were his plans for his future? For all of Tacker’s waxing nostalgic about his time in Nigeria, the only thing he affirmatively brought back was smoothing out round corners of angular buildings? Yes, I am being over-simplistic with this, but he doesn’t really “do” much except feel sorry for himself about the circumstances in which he left the country until the very end of the book. Even that was a weird way to close out this story. I was actually happy when all this came to an end so I could start another book. I give this 2.5 out of 5 stars, rounded up to 3 because the author really can describe the hell out of a setting. Thank you to Penguin Books via their First to Read an advance reading copy of this book.

This book interested me when I read the description. However, as I read and read the plot was struggling to pull together for me. The characters seemed "hard to get to know." The storyline was still of interest, but I was forcing myself at times to finish it. If I was going to use a 5 star rating, I would give this one a 2.5.

My Rating: 4 stars This was a book that took me awhile to get into and some sections were so slow-burn that it took some effort to push forward and continue reading, but I’m glad I stuck with it because in the end I was rewarded with a good story and characters that are hard to forget. Set in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the late 1950s/early 1960s, the narrative revolves around 3 main characters: Tacker Hart, a gifted engineer and all-around popular boy-hero whose life is transformed after returning from a trip to Nigeria; Kate Monroe, a young college graduate dealing with the loss of both her parents when a family secret she discovers in a letter threatens to tear her already fragile world further apart; and Gaines, a young African-American man whose separate encounters with both Tacker and Kate change the courses of their lives forever. The story is set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, only in its early stages here, yet so important in driving the course of the narrative forward. The author Elaine Neil Orr did a great job blending the historical context of the social unrest at the time that triggered the Civil Rights movement with the fictional story of Tacker and Kate’s complicated relationship and the difficult path they must take in order to find love. I also like the way the author developed the characters in the story, especially Tacker, as we were given the opportunity to delve deep into his thoughts as he tried to reconcile his experience in Nigeria with what he was seeing in his own community back home in Winston-Salem. Gaines’ impact on him was profound, as was the friendship of Samuel, one of the young Nigerian men Tacker met on his assignment, and to be honest, I enjoyed reading about these friendships more than Tacker’s at times conflicted love relationship with Kate. Perhaps this is because I wasn’t too fond of Kate due to her being so self-absorbed most of the time (which I did find a tad bit annoying in some scenes), but I think it also has to do with the story being written in a way where the reality of what was happening in society at the time and Tacker’s place in it trumped the love story, which was put more on the back burner. I guess in a way, this was mostly Tacker’s story and while Kate’s role was important to the story as well, I felt the significance was more in her character reflecting the attitude of society at the time when it came to issues of race and equality and how that attitude differed so greatly from Tacker’s. This was my first time reading Elaine Neil Orr’s work and I am definitely interested in reading more of her books. The writing was well-done and though I felt some parts were a little overwritten, that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story at all. There were also the themes of “water” and “swimming” that were huge parts of the book, though the author worked this into the story so well that I actually didn’t realize the subtle references throughout the book until I was nearing the end. My one complaint was that I sensed a certain level of emotional restraint in the telling of the story, reflected more significantly in some characters’ narratives (Kate for example) over others, and while this didn’t detract a whole lot from the events or how they unfolded in the story itself, it did affect the emotional impact that a story like this one should / could have had on its readers. The biggest example of this was in the ending, which was unexpected (and quite honestly a bit shocking), and I feel should have elicited a far more emotional response, but the way it was written felt a bit glossed over. With that said though, this was overall a thought-provoking read, another book that, despite its setting in an earlier time period, is very much timely, especially given everything happening in our world currently. Having grown up in the U.S. studying and reading about the Civil Rights movement primarily in history books, I appreciate the fact that books like this one help put into perspective the real-life impact of that history to ordinary lives – one of the aspects I love most about historical fiction. This one is definitely recommended! Received ARC from Berkley Books via Penguin First-to-read program.

I enjoyed what I was able to read of this book, but ran out of time to finish it. Definitely a book I would pick up to finish reading when the time allotted isn't limited. I thought the character progression and plot line were moving along well and I was intrigued with where the story was going. I look forward to finishing it.

I have read 1/3 of this book and just don't have any interest in continuing. I liked the idea of the book, being set in the south during the civil rights era (in a town I lived in for 4 years, no less), but the set-up to the promised action in the book is so slow. In the first third, the primary focus in on Tacker, a progressive for his era, with a limited amount of focus on Kate and the almost non-existent presence of Gaines. I have read books that focus on race and civil rights and frankly have found other approaches much more engaging. Thus, I won't be continuing with this one, though I appreciated the opportunity to give it a try.

This novel advertises itself as a coming of age novel set during the American Civil Rights movement. Publicity also claims that is it a story where three people of different backgrounds lives collide in the town of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. First, readers meet Tacker who is sent home in disgrace after working abroad in Africa. This changes his perceptions from those he grew up with in the South as he returned more open-minded. He also longs for the friends he left an ocean away. Kate is a recent college graduate who is still mourning her parent's deaths and makes a discovery that alters her perceptions. Both Tacker and Kate are white. Intersecting with their lives is Gaines, a young college-educated African-American man near their age. The majority of the story tells Tacker and Kate's story, both as they deal with their respective issues and as they come together. Gaines story feels more like a sideshow when it should predominate. As a whole, the novel delves deeply into Tacker and Kate's thoughts while Gaines is shown through their eyes. Readers do not get to see events from his viewpoint. Given the era, this is a glaring oversight. Orr's writing is detailed to the extreme, so the story often feels like it is dragging, so readers beware. I normally try to finish all books I review, but I gave up after approximately 180 pages because of these aforementioned issues. Still, others may enjoy it.

This book did not grab me.

Although I liked the story and enjoyed reading this book I feel I can only give it three stars. I had to constantly remind myself of the setting for this book. Every time something such as a car or the bike was mentioned, I would think, “Oh yeah, this is set in the late fifties”, and then would drift back to the modern era again as I read. I don’t know the author but am convinced she is fairly young and could not really capture the thoughts and feelings of someone who actually lived in the late fifties-early sixties. The characters had too much of what would be current thoughts on the world.

I think that the description of this book promised a lot more than the book delivered. It's not a coming of age story unless you come of age when you're 25 and no lives "collided" here. The book is set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, primarily in Winston-Salem, North Carolina although some of the story involves flashbacks to the time that Tacker Hart spent in Nigeria working as an engineer on a project to build schools. Tacker loved the time he spent in Nigeria and his descriptions of his time there and the people he met were some of my favorite parts of the book. After vague accusations of his "getting tangled up in the culture", Tacker was fired and sent back to his segregated hometown in disgrace. He was changed by his experience in Africa and after his return he no longer turns a blind eye to the Negroes in his town. This puts him at odds with seemingly all of the other citizens who are just fine with the existing "whites only" restrictions. Tacker hires Gaines, a young Negro man who has dropped out of Fisk to care for his mother and little sister, to work in the Hart family's grocery store. Gaines has the potential to be an interesting character, but unfortunately he makes only a brief appearance in the first half of the book and in the second half he exists only to introduce Tacker to sit-ins and the civil rights movement. Gaines is never developed as a person. However, the real weak link in the book for me was Kate Monroe, Tacker's former schoolmate with whom he pretty much immediately falls in love. I found Kate's presence in the book unnecessary. If the author wanted to show the slow evolution of someone who initially supports the racist status quo, she could have used Tacker's parents. Instead we get Kate and her really banal backstory about some letters her father wrote to her mother. There's also Kate's "should I or shouldn't I" relationship with her long distance boyfriend, creating the dreaded love triangle. I learned early in the book that I could skim through any chapter with Kate in it. This is a serious story, but without any real grit to it, and you can see the ending coming. There was also too much Kate. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

I lived in North Carolina in the late 90's and any book situated in this state is one that I expect much from. Swimming Between Worlds is one such book that did not disappoint. Tacker Hart has come home disgraced, from Nigeria to Winston Salem. He might be disgraced, but he did learn how to treat African Americans in an empathetic way while he was there. Kate Monroe needs answers. She goes on a quest to find them. She is the love interest for Tacker. They both encounter Gaines Townson, an African American, who believes that nonviolence is the answer. These are the book's distinctive features: compassion and complexity.... and a book that makes you think.

I was hooked on this book from the very beginning for 2 reasons. First, I live an hour from Winston-Salem and remember that time period slightly. (I was young.) the second and most important reason is that this illustrates how getting to know others from different cultures changes our perspectives on how people are more similar than different. I appreciated how the author shows a divide among people of the same race, who, for their own reasons, are unwilling to change their minds or whose experiences make them set more firmly in their beliefs. This book reminded me of my favorite movie “Crash,” for that reason. In reading the reviews, I agree that this book could easily be used in a college English class to explore character development, etc, and I may do that with my students. This may not be a book for everyone, but it definitely is a book for me.

An interesting slow burn of a book. There were definitely some parts that didn't feel like they were a necessary addition to the story. I liked the characters for the most part. It's definitely a thought provoking book. 4 stars.

This book was a great slow burn for me. I found that I needed to take some breaks to sit with the content, but this also meant that I would lose my place with the different narratives and would have to review. It was thoughtful and engaging, but I didn't feel really hooked in until about a third of the way through. Ideal for historical fiction buffs and people who enjoy taking their time with a book.

I really enjoyed this book and learning more about the civil rights movement. There were a lot of extraneous parts about Tacker and Kate that really stood out as completely unnecessary to this book. I think that this book could of used an edit. It was interesting to see the divide between what was going on in Nigeria and what was going on in America. Thanks ARC for the chance to read this book.

This book is not an easy read. I do appreciate the opportunity through First Reads to read and provide a review of the novel. This is a vast work and takes a good deal of time to read and process. I think it is one of those books that would be great to explore as part of a class where you dissect the characters, the various plot lines and what is going on in the world, especially the U.S. south at the time. I really do wonder what it was like then although we continue to struggle today with our relationships across races and across the world. We have even more information now at our fingertips if we can find true sources of knowledge. I can’t even imagine how you wrapped your mind around what was going on in the world when you only had access to a couple of tv networks and a few newspapers you were aware of. There is a lot going on in this book. If you are looking for a read that will challenge you and make you desire the time to contemplate it, this is the book for you. If you want a quick page turner, get this book and hold onto it when you want to question what you know and believe and how it might be different.

This book is about Tacker who goes to Nigeria to help build schools, but ends up coming home early in disgrace. He starts managing his father's grocery store in the 1960s south where segregation is very much alive. Tacker meets Gaines, a black college student who is working to integrate the south. Tacker was changed by his time in Nigeria and has to decide if he's going to help Gaines. Tacker also meets Kate, a girl from his high school, who challenges him as a person. Kate is also on her own path, unraveling her deceased parents' lives in the house they left behind. The ending of the book is unexpected, but also makes this book much more vibrant and important than it would've been with the predictable ending that I thought was going to happen.

I enjoyed this thought-provoking coming-of-age story about civil rights and racial tensions and realities in America and also in Nigeria. The story explores the feelings and perspectives of people on all sides of the movement. I was drawn to the characters and their individual plights, and the author did a wonderful job of knitting together the relationships. Thank you to First to Read for my advance copy.

“I suppose I mean I want to get the big things right.” For example? Marry the right person? Choose the right career? Raise your children well? Make the world better? He sure was smug. “You sound like a preacher.” I received this book from Penguin Books First to Read program. It is the story of three young people, Tacker, home from a mission in Nigeria who decides to work in his father’s grocery store. Gaines, a young black man who is involved in the Civil Rights marches in town. Kate, a young woman who is drifting through life because her father died in mysterious circumstances and her mother soon after. These three people create a story about the Civil Rights era where each must choose to make a stand. The characters are amazing and you will be pulling for all of them to make it. Not all of them do make it, so taking a stand sometimes comes with a high price. I highly recommend this novel for young adults and anyone interested in the Civil Rights era.

I enjoyed this book. It's well written and the three main characters are well drawn. It took about a third of the book for me to really get into it, but this may have been through a misunderstanding on my part. I thought this was going to be more about the civil rights movement in the Winston-Salem area (where some of the sit-ins at the Woolworth lunch counters occurred). It was a part of the book, but there was also a lot of backstory on Tacker and Kate, which I wasn't as interested in. I would have actually liked to have more background on the African-American man Gaines, who we don't learn much about except in present time. Overall a satisfying read, but with a smaller dose of the civil rights movement than what I would have liked to see.

Thank you to First to Read for my free advance reading copy of this book. This book was beautifully written and is a coming of age story in the late 50s/early 60s during the Civil Rights movement. The book was a little slow to start, but once I was introduced to the three central characters and was able to learn more about each, I was hooked. Tacker Hart has just moved back home to North Carolina after spending some time abroad in Nigeria and getting too "involved" with the locals, causing the group he was abroad with to become quite uncomfortable and sending him back home. Kate Monroe is still grieving the loss of both her parents and too has returned home after graduating from college. And, Gaines Townson is a young black man who gets involved with the nonviolent protests and movements. We learn a lot about these three characters, watch them evolve (especially Tacker), and get some insight to how they think. My one criticism is that we get chapters from Tacker and Kate's perspective, but none from Gaine's's. I wish that was different, because he is a central character who motivates a lot of change in those around him and his story is just as important as Tacker and Kate's. I really enjoyed this book, though it felt slow at times, and the last few chapters had me reeling. The end was highly emotional for me, and it was incredible to see how characters could change and grow over the course of a momentous year.

This book was a beautifully written and moving portrayal of three individuals during the Civil Rights movement. I would recommend to fans of historical fiction.

This book is both love story, a coming of age tale, and a tale of racism in the south in the late 50s/early 60s. Kate and Tacker come together at a tumultuous time in their lives. He's just returned from an architecture project in Nigeria after getting "involved" with the local community more than the group that sent him was comfortable with. Kate has lost both her parents and is trying to find herself among the detritus of the life they left behind, including letters that indicate her father may not have been as happy in their life as she thought he was. Gaines, a young black man employed at Tacker's store, draws both of them into his protests and sit ins to integrate the south, creating an awakening between the two that leads to a deeper, more real friendship than would have been otherwise possible. This book is full of absolutely gorgeous imagery and prose that drops you into the setting that's depicted, the characters are completely fleshed out, emotional and real. Set against a backdrop of racial tensions and the burgeoning civil rights act, the book has a soul searingly abrupt and heart breaking ending, it was devastating. Beautifully written, looking forward to more from this author.

It took me a while into the book to get to the point where I wanted to read it for the information rather than reading just because I needed to read it for a review. The back and forth was a little hard for me to track for a while. The imagery in the book was great though. I could see everything in my mind while I was reading it. It also did make me think about things that were going on in both countries of United States and Nigeria. Tacker Hart is one of the main characters. He Is from the United States. He went to college at the end worked for a company that sent him to Nigeria. We see bits and pieces of his story there in Nigeria. He was considered disgraceful and sent home. We he gets home to North Carolina he was lost. He started working for his dads grocery store to get himself onto his feet. As the story progresses we see how much Tacker changed from being in Nigeria. We see the internal fights he has trying not to rock the boat but at the same time trying to help Gaines and his cause. We meet Kate and get her back story and find out about how both of her parent died and how it affected her. A good portion of her story she is lost and a shell of a human. Towards the end it seems like Tacker and Kate help each other find themselves and fall in love in the process. When Tacker does a sit in with Gaines Kate freaks out. Through several events Kate begins to realize that she should think differently and agrees with Tacker and his points of view. Gaines is an African American young man who came into Harts grocery just to get milk. Tacker allowed him to come in and get it but in the process there was an incident where Gaines was attacked by white people. This is what starts where we see the change in Tacker and his feelings on segregation. It is a complex story with complex characters. The end was emotional but I can't explain how or it might ruin it for others. I do think that it is a book that you should check out for yourself and see if you like it. I received this book for free to read from first to read in exchange for an honest review. The opinions in this review are 100% my own.

An interesting story about a couple who are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after a life-altering event. After Kate's mother passes away, she finds letters that her Dad (also dead) wrote to her Mother telling of his love for someone else and that he was leaving her. Her Dad passed away from drowning after the undertow pulled him too far from shore but after finding the letters, she wonders if it was suicide. Tacker on the other hand is home after being fired from a trip to Africa for becoming too close to the locals. The two find each other as they try to come to grips with their individual issues. The book is centered in Winston Salem in the 1960's. As Tacker becomes more involved in the Civil Rights movement, Kate must face the harsh reality of segregation and decide between her beliefs she has been raised by and what rings true in her heart.. The book is thought provoking and well worth your time. Thanks to Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read an advanced copy!

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