Kasienka loves both her parents but knows that her mom needs her more than her dad. When she is given the choice to live with one or the other she feels guilty even thinking of deserting her mom. Even though her mom is depressed, does not listen to Kasienka, does not help her with issues at school, she is loyal to her and loves her. The book shows how Kasienka deals with her problems by swimming and making choices that are opposite of how others have treated her. She represents goodness and is easy to sympathize with and root for in situations. Many chapters could be read as a stand alone if a teacher wants to discuss themes such as prejudices, bullies, or sports as a positive outlet.
The verse on water is particularly beautiful as a symbol of silence for Kasienka and being free from her troubles. Even though she has the weight of water on her shoulders, she can lose herself in a sport that she excels at above all others. She gains confidence through the course of the novel from her boyfriend, William, her friend, Dalilah, and swimming that allows her to stand up to a class bully and gives her some measure of control in a life buffeted by uncontrollable adults.
I work overseas and think students will be able to relate to some of the issues Kasienka is dealing with - I know that I can relate to being an illiterate foreigner. I, too, have my stories of prejudices whether it is someone refusing me service because I am Caucasian to a teacher kicking me out of language class because she was embarrassed by my horridly slow progress. While Kasienka was dropped only one grade I would have been dropped many more if the roles had been switched. Learning languages for me is like mixing oil and water. I had great sympathy for Kasienka who was bored being in a grade level that was too low.
The chapter called, "July 7" confused me. I should know that it is England's "September 11" but I am not the best with dates. I assumed it was some bombing and the fact that Dalilah was Muslim, but the chapter confused me as to who was speaking to whom. I had to reread it. The gist is that Dalilah is now being bullied instead of Kasienka. There's always a new victim by intolerant people. There are also the silent ones who don't say anything. Kasienka thinks on how she ignored that new kid in school when she lived in Poland and had her own friend. I found the Chapter, "Group Work," spoke to my conscience as a teacher and how I group students or separate them in a way that can be insensitive to their needs.
The author has many messages but I particularly liked how she captures the complex nature of bullying from the main person picking on someone to the victim and bystanders. Kasienka observes, "Claire stands in the center/ surrounded by thick circle of girls/ I can feel the desperation/ The thirst for admission /It is a dance for popularity/ Swapping places every day/ Knowing that tomorrow any one of them could be out./ Maybe it's lonely for Claire there in the center/ Directing the dance./ She ignores me again,/ Which is better than being bullied./ Dalilah and I stand together side-by-side./There is no one in the center,/ We're just looking out/ In the same direction/ Not desperately at one another/ Fearing betrayal." Learning to stand independently and with confidence is hard enough when growing up, but take away the language, culture, and familiar surroundings, and courage is exposed at its best.