Elsewhere Girls by Emily Gale and Nova Weetman

It’s midnight and I’m alone in the kitchen eating a cold potato scallop. Coach O’Call would say something like, ‘That’s not what I expect from a scholarship girl!’ because I have to be up for squad training in five hours and I’m not supposed to go near potato scallops, and—oh, yeah—it’s my fifth.

Elsewhere Girls, by two of my favourite authors, Emily Gale and Nova Weetman, is a story for ages 10+ about two girls from very different times. Both live in Sydney, 100 years apart. In classic time-slip style, they magically swap places, while swimming in the ocean at Wylie’s Baths, finding themselves in each other’s lives.

The two girls develop a deep connection with each other, through their individual experiences, where they face the often very funny, awkward and unexpected challenges, of living in another time, another family and another life.

The story is based on the life of Fanny Durack, who was Australia’s first female Olympic swimmer. From 1910 until 1918 she was the world’s greatest female swimmer across all distances, from freestyle sprints to the mile marathon. This middle-grade time-slip offers a unique way to explore Fanny’s life, and the challenges and pressures young women face growing up, in both the past and the present.

Told in alternating chapters, Cat, who lives in current day Sydney, has just begun at a new school on a sports scholarship, and she’s feeling pressured by early morning training sessions and the all-consuming commitment to her swimming. She is questioning herself and her life.

On the other side of the time continuum, Fanny, who is living in 1908, loves to swim, and she lives for competition racing, but the family chores and responsibilities she carries, coupled with the expectations and rules for what girls should do in their lives, make it very hard for her to follow her dreams.

On this fateful day, during a swim in the sea baths, Cat and Fanny find themselves living each other’s lives. They must grapple with challenges and confusion, as they come to appreciate and understand themselves and the role of swimming in their lives, in a time that is starkly different to their own. The story touches on issues not often discussed in middle-grade books and offers insight into what life was like for girls in the early 1900’s.

Nova and Emily are both brilliant writers and I enjoy all of their books, so to have them collaborating on a project is a gift. Both voices are strong and clear and the weaving of Cat and Fanny’s lives, thoughts and worries, work in harmony. The movement between time periods is effortless and whilst both voices are in first person, the reader is never confused as to who is speaking.

As Cat and Fanny learn more about the very different times they find themselves living in, they become close to the other girl’s family and friends, begin to miss home, and rise to the challenges they must face in order to find their way back to their own lives. The view of the early 1900’s juxtapositioned against current times, allows an examination of equality, class and women’s rights, never losing sight of what matters most to young teens; family, friends and finding themselves.

Highly recommended for all ages, but particularly 10 – 14 years old. Perfectly paced, heartfelt and authentically written, the book is a blend of time-slip adventure, history, and a classic tale of two girls working out what matters most. Available in all good book stores.


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