Title & buy link: Tumble Turn
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Cover Artist: Deana C Jamroz
Publisher: MLR Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M contemporary
Length: Novella (28,000 words)
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: Nice and timely story about a Paralympic swimmer going for gold in every aspect of his life.
Winning isn’t everything…except when everything rides on being first.
Ben Edwards is the rising star of British Paralympic swimming, with a medal at London 2012 firmly in his sights. Love isn’t going to be allowed to get in the way — until he meets Nick, who proves to be a big distraction from training. With his times sliding, and a family illness, to worry him, it looks like Ben’s Olympic dreams are in tatters. Until Nick comes up with the most outrageous incentive for winning.
Teenager Ben Edwards is around at his friend Matty’s house when the news comes that the UK is to host the 2012 Olympics. Both boys are sports-mad, so when Ben announces that he’s going to take part in the Olympics, Matty believes him. So do Ben’s parents, who encourage him in his dream and support him as he follows through on his decision to become a swimmer. Ben has cerebral palsy and he’s classified as an S9 in Paralympic terms (S1 being seriously disabled and S10 contestants are ‘just about on the cusp of non-disability sport’, as Ben describes it), so Ben has a milder form of the disability, and it affects his coordination when he’s tired.
Fast forward through Ben’s coming out – accepted and supported by both parents and Matty, still his best friend – and then Ben’s years at university where he studies Psychology. All the while, he’s still in training and he hasn’t lost sight of his goal to qualify for the Paralympics. This means that his love life has come a distant third to his swimming and his degree, but Ben isn’t too bothered – or maybe he protests too much. He wants his first time to be with someone special, someone he loves, and he’s put up a lot of barriers to prevent potential boyfriends from getting too close.
Ben achieves success at national and then international levels, and is due to take part in the Paralympics when Matty introduces him to his girlfriend’s brother, Nick. Nick is gorgeous and very interested in Ben, plus he follows Paralympic swimming and is a bit of a fanboy. Ben is flattered and wants to get to know Nick some more, but their fledgling romance must take second place to the chance of Olympic medals.
Except Ben has fallen in love, and his feelings for Nick are playing havoc with his focus. His coach is in despair, and Ben fears that he’ll lose his dream forever – and with it, his chance of happiness with Nick. To make matters worse, Ben’s mum is rushed to hospital and Ben doesn’t know which way to turn. Family, love, the dream of Olympic gold – can he win it all?
Charlie Cochrane often writes about nice, well-behaved Englishmen, and these two lads remain true to type. Cochrane’s style is familiar and comfortable, sinking the reader into established settings and ways of life that are thoroughly British. However, what worked so well for me in her historical Cambridge Fellows series doesn’t quite follow through into this contemporary story. Ben and Nick behave more like men of a much older generation than of two guys in their early twenties, and while sometimes I found it quite sweet, in the end it became annoying as I simply couldn’t imagine anyone of that age right now speaking or acting as they did – or at least, not two guys brought up as they were. They’re both quite innocent, even with their university education. I could understand Ben’s naivety because he’s been so focused on his training, but still. It sat oddly with me.
Another thing that bothered me was the disability aspect. I’d picked the book up purely because I wanted to read about a Paralympian, so I was disappointed to find that the disability was minimised. That’s not to say it was treated lightly, because it’s not, and Ben’s physical reactions to long hours of training, fatigue and worry are certainly mentioned without being entirely glossed over, but still, I was expecting something more. To be honest, the story would have worked if the disability aspect was removed and the sporting event was a World Cup rather than the Paralympics, which lessens the impact of this as a story about a disabled character.
What worked for me here, as in most of Cochrane’s books, is the supporting cast. They’re all unique and very British, from Ben’s parents to Matty’s mum. I also liked best friend Matty, who is a typical bloke. Certainly for international readers, Cochrane gives a good cross-section of modern UK life and attitudes.
The author writes ‘sweet’ romances, so the door is closed on most bedroom action, but that’s a pleasant change these days. Ben’s voice is charming and has a nice bouncy quality, but overall I never felt connected to him and the story just felt a little too pat in places, especially when it came to the swimming events. I think part of the problem for me was that the story covered seven years or so and because of the novella format, I didn’t feel like I’d got to know Ben enough by the time the Paralympics came round and he met Nick. Other readers may feel differently.
However, despite my criticisms, this is overall a ‘nice’ book – it’s like a familiar cup of morning tea and a biscuit. Fans of the author will surely enjoy it, and it is nice to see a Paralympic story amidst the able-bodied sports books in this genre.