The Girl Who Swam to Atlantis, by Elle Thornton

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MWSA Review

“The Girl Who Swam To Atlantis” is well written story of a twelve-year-old losing the naivety and insecurities of childhood as she struggles to find her mother, succeed as a competitive swimmer and win the confidence of her father who wants to send her back to a boarding school.

Gabriella lives a sheltered life until the summer of 1957 when she spends the summer from boarding school with her father, a rigid Marine general at a base in North Carolina.  Her mother is away until, the young girl is told, “she’s ready to come home.”

p; Hawkins, a black NCO and house steward for the general, befriends the pre-teen and helps her develop greater self confidence and swimming skills in the river bordering her home, but that relationship with Hawkins is frowned upon by some neighbors. During the course of that summer, Gabriella begins to recognize and question the racial bias that exists among some of the families living in the officers housing area. She also becomes obsessed with the murder of Emmett Till who was lynched in Mississippi two years earlier. Thinking of the bravery displayed by young Emmett when he faced his killers motivates her to go to extra lengths to prove her worth to the general who seems to only tolerate her.

Gabriella struggles to understand what has happened to her missing mother who her father repeated says ‘has some problems,’ but will nott explain what those problems were. Without her father’s or Hawkins’s knowledge, she sets out on the river to find her mother.

Ideal for teens, “The Girl Who Swam To Atlantis” will delight anyone who enjoys a heartwarming story of a self-willed girl who doesn’t shirk from challenges and treasures the value of friendship and family love.  

Reviewed by: Joe Epley (2013)


Author's Synopsis

Nearly everything important in twelve-year-old Gabriella's life that summer of 1957 can be traced to the river. On the North Carolina military base where she lives, she meets the African-American Marine Hawkins by the river's brown-green water. Hawkins, a servant in the kitchen of her father's quarters, becomes her swim coach and a person she can talk with--even about the tragedy of the youth Emmett Till. The fourteen-year-old was lynched two years earlier, his body thrown into Mississippi's Tallahatchie river. But this river, her river, isn't a place of death. Emmett's spirit is alive in its waters. It's a place of magic.

At the river Hawkins helps her find her strength and her place in the world. Emmett helps her find her heart.


Emmett had been murdered for whistling at a white woman. Could her friendship with Hawkins endanger the tough Marine? It doesn't seem possible. Until a sudden storm on the river changes Gabriella's life--forever.