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Swim to Me Reader’s Guide

By Betsy Carter

Swim to Me by Betsy Carter


Hailed as “poignant and at times rollickingly hilarious” (Miami Herald) and “a delightful escape” (New York Magazine), Swim to Me has captured readers’ imaginations coast to coast. A coming-of-age novel for every age, this is the story of Delores Walker, a seventeen-year-old girl from the Bronx who dreams of becoming a mermaid. And not just any mermaid: Delores wants to join the troupe of dazzling, sequined aquatic showgirls at Weeki Wachee Springs, a Florida tourist attraction she visited on a vacation with her parents. Her father has since abandoned the family, leaving Delores, her mother, and her little brother to make it on their own. Then Delores decides to strike out by herself, boarding a bus and heading back to the sunny state where a seemingly glamorous underwater career beckons. Brimming with colorful characters and poignant turns of fate, her new life is a wondrous lesson in magical living.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Betsy Carter’s Swim to Me. We hope they will enrich your experience of this exhilarating novel.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. What did the novel’s opening scene mean to Delores? How did the reality of her grown-up world compare to the memory of that trip?

2. How did the novel’s two distinct settings—New York versus Florida—reflect two distinct parts of Delores’s identity? What did she discover about finding a true home, and her true self?

3. What were your first impressions of the Walkers’ marriage? What was at the heart of their quarrels? Despite the hardships it caused, did Roy’s departure strengthen his family?

4. What makes the early 1970s an ideal time period for this storyline? How did the details in Swim to Me match your memories or impressions of this era? How did the novel’s “soundtrack” of song references affect your reading?

5. How did Gail’s early life influence her approach to adulthood and mothering? What did Avalon teach her about being a confident woman?

6. Is Thelma a good surrogate mother to the girls she supervises? Is her personal legacy a story of shame or triumph, or both?

7. Discuss the varied personalities of the girls of Weeki Wachee. Who are the most powerful members of Thelma’s circle? What do all of them, including Delores, have in common?

8. How does Delores respond to attention from men? Is her role in the weather segment on television very different from the roles she performs at Weeki Wachee? What is the difference between a woman whose sex appeal is exploited and a woman whose beauty is admired?

9. What does Roy discover about himself after he is reunited with Delores? How are they transformed by their jobs in Florida?

10. Delores was worried that Thelma and the others would discover that she had lied about aspects of her family. What did Delores’s image of her family, both the fantasy and the reality, say about her hopes and fears? In what ways have you reinvented yourself in your lifetime?

11. Swim to Me is populated by many characters who are pursuing their dreams, ranging from Delores’s and Gail’s career pursuits to Dave Hanratty’s vision of an Aqua Zoo. What is the boldest goal you have ever envisioned? How far did you pursue it?

12. How does the novel’s title echo the dilemmas of trust and learning faced by the characters? What makes the world of water—by turns alluring, tranquil, and perilous—a good metaphor for the process of becoming an adult?

13. What does the future hold for Delores and Westie? What do you predict for their family?

14. How do this novel’s themes of survival and determination, enhanced by a whimsical spirit, also shape Betsy Carter’s debut novel, The Orange Blossom Special?

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