cover image Dryland


Sara Jaffe. Tin House (Norton, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-941040-13-3

Jaffe’s exceptional debut, a heartfelt coming-of-age story set in Portland, Ore., in 1992, exquisitely captures the nostalgia and heartbreak of youth. Teenage Julie Winter tries to make meaningful connections as she navigates the tricky world of high school cliques, while living in the shadow of her older brother, Jordan, a former Olympic hopeful now living in Germany. She and her friend Erika hang out together, dissecting every nuance of their peers’ actions. Julie surreptitiously checks the swimming magazines at the local news store to see whether her noncommunicative brother has reentered the sport that once dominated the Winter family when he was an up-and-coming star. A radical shift occurs when the popular Alexis, cocaptain of the swim team, invites Julie to try out. Erika joins as well, and Julie feels both overwhelmed and at home in the water, coping with her brother’s legacy yet wanting to make her own mark. A new relationship with one of her brother’s fellow swimmers, Ben, now a freelance landscaper who also works as a magazine rep at her local store, provides her with some unexpected clues about Jordan’s life. Using spare, precise prose, and with a fresh, strong voice, Jaffe explores Julie’s budding sexuality, her unexpected attraction to Alexis, her awareness of the limitations of friendship, and the angst young women face as they begin to confront adulthood. (Sept.)