Skip to main content

Swimming Lessons By Lili Reinhart Poetry Review

 

Swimming Lessons by Lili Reinhart 

Overall: 5

This is the first poetry book I've ever read in its entirety outside of Shel Silverstein, so I've checked off one of my reading goals for the year with this one. I've now read a graphic novel and a book of poetry. I've been anticipating Swimming Lessons so long that I can't believe it's actually in my hands. I've been a fan of Lili since Riverdale, and I've continued to be a fan of hers even when the show got a bit too ridiculous for me to keep watching every week. I've been excited for the chance to get to see something completely created a controlled by Lili. 

I'm not sure what I expected from Swimming Lessons. I think I had almost no idea what it would be like or the topics it would cover. After the first couple poems, I was completely hooked. In the intro, Lili prefaces the collection by noting that poetry has always given her solace in knowing other people felt the same specific emotions that she did. She offers these in an attempt to do the same, and I think she achieves this remarkably well. She also notes, very similarly to Taylor Swift's letter about Folklore, that pieces come from lived experiences and others come from fictional places or exploring some kind of emotion in an exercise. Through all of them, though, Lili keeps a valiant degree of honesty and a shocking amount of vulnerability. Poetry and lyrics are exposing like nothing else, and knowing where Lili is coming from as a highly scrutinized actress, it's amazing that she decided to share these pieces with us. It's something I appreciate greatly while also acknowledging the unique challenge of what she's doing. As a writer myself, I know the feelings of nakedness and exposure that the best writing creates for the author, and I can't imagine how much more intense it is when you know people are waiting to pick something apart for clues. 

I've never written about a book of poetry, so please bear with me. I haven't quite honed my skills at this kind of critique, but I can tell you this is a beautiful book. I spent the entire hour I did my first reading taking photos of poems I wanted to remember. I felt like I took photos of almost every poem, and now they're stuffing my camera roll. I'll have to reread this book many times over. 

I guess, in terms of substance, I can talk about it from two points of view: formatting and themes. I loved the way all of these poems were laid out. The spacing and formatting choices told a story in themselves. They look beautiful on the page and add extra layers of emotion. While reading it, I tweeted something along the lines of, I think what I love most about poetry as a genre is that it's not just the words that tell the story but the exact way they're placed on the page, and that's really the thought this book brought to my mind. There are additional interesting choices beyond the word arrangements. There are blank white pages and blank red pages that shift emotions. There are also tons of illustrations to show what's happening in the poems. They weren't my favorite part of the book, but I like what the illustrator chose to pull out of Lili's words to represent. I appreciated all the choices that were made. 

As far as themes, the collection feels cohesive because almost all of them are about Lili at their core instead of being too focused on other people. There are poems about loss, both in the sense of a break up and a death of a friend, it seems. Both of these areas are gut wrenching. There is one addressed to her late dog, Delilah. There was one poem I particularly liked that addressed Lili getting congratulations for being a mental health advocate where she admits she doesn't deserve any points for telling the truth. It raises an interesting question. On that note, she also puts words to some of her experiences with depression and anxiety. Some of the more existential themes include the pervasive feeling of running out of time and the struggle as a writer about not having any words that haven't already been said. That specific poems is one of my favorites. Those are the topics that resonated most deeply with me because those are the areas where I have direct, lived experience. In those poems, I got to have that unique sensation of Lili pulling the thoughts out of my brain and chatting with me about my most inner fears. 

The bulk of the poems, though, are about a romantic relationship. Both falling in and falling out of it. These poems feel the most raw and visceral. It's not hard to imagine Lili capturing these experiences in real time. The words are sparse, but there are the necessary details to ground you in her world. I have never fallen in love with some magnificent, special person, and I've never watched that relationship fall apart. But the way Lili writes about it makes me feel like I have. I understood the oddly specific feelings that come with it, now, like I don't think I ever have before. She captures the just the right moments to paint the entire picture. I regularly relate to stories about things I've never experienced, but never to this degree before.

Also, Lili has a layer of perspective that I find uniquely fascinating. She has loved someone who is in the public eye while being a celebrity herself. To go back to Taylor Swift, it's often her songs on that theme that I go back to over and over again. Love is hard and messy enough without that kind of external stress. Lili does an amazing job of balancing being relatable and holding these feelings on their most fascinatingly mundane level while also encompassing these realities in the big picture of their lives. I love how most of the pieces on her relationship and fame is focused on the unique joy and wonder of truly knowing someone who is constantly looked at but never fully seen. In what's unsaid, it manages to delve into that commentary of how we never and we can't know the famous people we follow on the internet, no matter how much they let us see. 

None of this commentary on what is drawn out from Lili's position in the world is to take away from the words on the page on their own. They're quite beautiful and meaningful without being flowery or what comes to mind if you think about poetry as someone who doesn't read much of it. The whole wonder of these poems come from their sparseness. The words not on the page count just as much as the ones that are. It's less lyrical than it is approachable and a conversation, and I think that serves her as a writer. Beyond that, I think it'll also be amazing as a possible vessel to get more people interested in poetry and reading. Lili has such a fanbase that there will be plenty of people who don't typically pick up books for fun that will read Swimming Lessons to learn more about her, and the way she writes, I think Lili might create some new readers. I think, especially in poetry, there's a layer to it that feels so unapproachable if you've only ever encountered it in an English class that this could be a powerful reading experience on a broader level. 

This collection left me with way more thoughts than I anticipated and trying to write this review has created even more. If I could, I would just sit there and analyze every poem and share all my favorite lines. In trying to capture this expansive collection in a summary, I've found an interesting other parallel that comes out of trying to write about a book written by a person who is a celebrity for a different reason. For one, I don't think anyone should write off an actress or YouTuber or anyone else who writes a book until they've read it. But I also struggle with the question of whether it's fair to Lili, the author, to discuss the book in the context of her fame and what I already know about her life. Most authors don't exist in such a public manner and therefore aren't critiqued on their reach or celebrity life. But, honestly, I only bring those elements into it because I feel like it adds to what Lili's done instead of taking away from it. If it was simply her fame that the book relied on, discussing it in that context wouldn't be interesting at all. I feel like the broader conversation is facilitated by the fact that Lili creates an amazing poetry collection that could stand alone, anonymously. 

I think I've rambled enough for one book review, but this book really touched me in a way I wasn't ready for. If you want an inviting window to jump into poetry from, this is a great place to start. 

Subscribe on YouTube

Taylor Swift's 10 Best Music Videos

Links of Interest:

September 2020 Wrap Up

How It All Blew Up 

Into YA with Kristina Forest

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi: YA Book Review

  Yolk  by Mary H.K. Choi Overview: Jayne is in fashion school in NYC. Well, she's enrolled. It's debatable how often she actually attends. June has a fancy job in finance, or that's what everyone thinks. But when June gets cancer, the estranged sisters are pulled together because June needs Jayne's identity to get treatment. By pretending to be her sister to get the life-saving procedure, June is forced to come clean and pull Jayne back into her orbit. Though their relationship stays rocky, they're suddenly glued together, forced to admit that their respective glamorous lives are actually filled with roaches and trauma and missteps. Overall: 5+++ This book made me happy cry (that's never happened while reading) and sad cry. Characters: 5 The book is told from Jayne's perspective in an extremely close first person. This book has plot. Things happen in the way that life happens, but it's mostly just characters getting split open and probed for all their w

YA You Need To Read: April 2021

It's already April! School has been super super hectic, and I'm starting my old job as a bookseller again, so I haven't had much time for reading lately (ironic, I know), but I did want to talk about some books coming out in April that I can't wait to read (one day) that might inspire you to pick them up. I particularly can't wait for My Epic Spring Break Up! It's been on my list for a while now (I mean, look at that cover), but I also found some new books that hadn't been on my radar while browsing around the internet that I wanted to bring to your attention.  Let me know in the comments what April books you can't wait for!  Zara Hossain Is Here by Sabina Kahn  April 6th Zara has lived in Corpus Christi, Texas for a while. She's always dealt with the Islamophobia that's rampant in her high school, but when the star football player gets suspended, Zara becomes the target of a racist attack by the rest of the team that puts her and her family'

Once Upon a Quinceañera

Once Upon a Quinceañera   by Monica Gomez-Hera Overview: Carmen hasn't graduated high school, even though it's the summer after senior year. When her senior project fell through, Carmen has to scramble to complete the project over the summer. That means no college (not that she applied) and no future plans beyond becoming a Dream (floating around in a Belle costume at children's parties) with her best friend Waverley. So maybe it's not the summer Carmen wanted, but it's fine. At least until her ex-boyfriend who ruined everything, Mauro, also shows up on the team and then they get assigned to work her nemesis and younger cousin's quinceañera, which becomes the big event of the summer. Nothing ever quite goes to plan for Carmen, does it? Overall: 4 Characters: 4 I enjoyed hanging out with Carmen for a while. She's super witty and cynical in a way that I appreciate. I also loved reading about a character who's just out of high school and doesn't have a

Olivia Rodrigo'a SOUR As YA Books: Track By Track

This list turned out to be much harder to make than I anticipated when I came up with the idea last week. I set out to match songs to SOUR because what goes better with an album written by a 17/18 year old than YA books, but it turns out that YA books are just too hopeful for this album. Unlike many of these songs, I couldn't find books where the characters ended the book totally despondent and broken up. It took a bit of brainstorming, but I think I found a book to match the essence of each SOUR track. Le me know in the comments which songs on SOUR are your favorite. Mine are "brutal", "favorite crime", "deja vu", and "jealousy, jealousy".  1. "brutal" : War and Speech   by Don Zolidis War and Speech just radiates the same badass, discontented with teenage life energy as "brutal". This was the first book that popped into my mind when I thought about making this post. Just look at the cover. Sydney's life has been fa

Halsey's I Would Leave Me If I Could Poetry Review

  I Would Leave Me If I Could  by Halsey  I've started this review a couple times and scrapped all of them. I've written hundreds of reviews before, and this is the first time I have absolutely no clue how to review a book. It's not just because it's poetry. And it's not because I don't have thoughts on every single poem. I've read the book twice and scrubbed a million notes around her words and highlighted every poem on my second read through. I have so many favorites, and my heart feels like it's going to burst after finishing each poem. Halsey exceeded every expectation I had set to the high bar of her music. I almost feel like this book is too good for my review to remotely do it justice, so I don't even know where to begin.  This book is extremely vulnerable. Halsey has never held back on telling the ugly truth in her lyrics, but the poetry takes it so much farther. She has space to tell the entire story, fewer constraints than what will fit in

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston: NA Book Review

  One Last Stop  by Casey McQuiston Get Your Copy! Overview: August moved to New York for yet another fresh start and hopefully to finish out college (finally). In her attempt to find a place, she stumbles into an apartment full of interesting people who will quickly become her best friends. They fold her seamlessly into their lives. And then, on the subway, August meets a girl who will change her life forever. As time goes on, August finds out that Subway Girl, or Jane, is stuck on the Q metro line by some kind of energetic force. With the Q shutting down for maintenance by the end of the summer, August and her friends have to band together to get Jane unstuck, even if that means bouncing her back to 1977 where she came from and never seeing her again. Overall: 4 Characters: 5 I genuinely loved everyone in this book, and they gave me such warm, fuzzy, and hopeful feelings. The book would be New Adult if that was a category that publishing actually used (please can we make this more of

End of Summer YA to Preorder: August TBR

I know I always start these posts by panicking about how it's somehow already *insert whatever month here* because I'm always genuinely surprised when a new month rolls around and I realize it's already time to make a TBR post. But this month it's extra scary because I'm going to start this month at home like normal and end the month in a a brand new city, on my own, and starting in college in person for the first time. I have a road trip and a million boxes and probably a few tears in my future. (More on that later because I think I'm going to actually write a wrap up for this month sometime this week since there are about to be a ton of big changes!)  Anyway, here are the books I'm most excited for during the month of August. This list is a bit shorter than usual, but it has a bit of everything I love: a college YA/NA, a pop star story, and a book from an author I've enjoyed before.  If you're excited about any of these books, make sure you get you

Is YA For Me?

I've seen a lot of different conversations taking place on Twitter that all come back to a central theme. The YA space is controlled by adults. For the most part, they are the ones with the purchasing power, they have jobs in the industry, they are in a better position to amplify their voices about how they feel about different books and the category as a whole. I've been thinking about these conversations as a whole, and it really does come back to the intended audience not owning the space and what that means for the category and the conversations around it. As a teen who's heavily involved in the YA community, I sometimes feel awkward reading all the different, slightly varied takes from adults. Some make blanket statements for themselves and some work with teens and try to be a conduit to add them to the conversation. Very rarely do I come across a real teen who gets an amplified voice in the conversation (definitely go check out Vicky Who Reads on Twitter because,

Writing Morally Gray Characters: A Guest Post by Laurie Devore, Author of A Better Bad Idea

Laurie Devore is stopping by the blog today to talk about her new book from Imprint, A Better Bad Idea , which is out now! This mystery/thriller/romance fusion is Laurie's third book, and it's a new twist on her usual contemporary YA stories. For this guest post, Laurie talks about crafting morally gray characters that your readers will still feel attached to and cheer on. Here's her best writing tips:  I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of what people will do when they’re pushed to their brink. While my new novel, A BETTER BAD IDEA, may seem like a departure in some ways from my previous novels, I actually think their DNA is quite similar. The stakes are higher, but as ever, this book is about girls making unimaginable choices because of their circumstances, whether self-inflicted or not.   I’m constantly thinking about what it means to write morally gray characters, and I think the main takeaway from me is that I’m just much more interested in what people do and w