Fat Boy Swim

Fat Boy Swim

by Catherine Forde

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'Powerful, empowering... crackles with teenage anger and pain' - The Times

From award-winning author, Catherine Forde, comes Fat Boy Swim, a story that will make you realise that anything is possible.

Jimmy Kelly is fat. Lardy. Ginormous. Clinically obese. Inside, Jimmy doesn't feel like Smelly Kelly, Fat Boy


'Powerful, empowering... crackles with teenage anger and pain' - The Times

From award-winning author, Catherine Forde, comes Fat Boy Swim, a story that will make you realise that anything is possible.

Jimmy Kelly is fat. Lardy. Ginormous. Clinically obese. Inside, Jimmy doesn't feel like Smelly Kelly, Fat Boy Fat. He's just normal. His bedroom's a pit. His feet stink. He hates getting up on school mornings. If any of his classmates bothered to talk to him, instead of slagging him off, they'd find he was just as clued up as they were on films, on books, on telly, even on sport. But he wouldn't tell them that his secret talent is cooking. And Jimmy has another secret that even he doesn't know yet. A secret that will change him forever.

Catherine Forde – author of Sugarcoated, Skarrs and Firestarter returns with a brilliant, bittersweet story of first love, forgiveness and a family coming to terms with the past. A gripping, emotive and insightful book for young adults. Perfect for readers who enjoyed Judy Blume's Blubber and fans of Annabelle Pitcher.

“Should be force-fed to every secondary school child in the country” – The Sunday Telegraph

“This is a moving, tumultuous, roller-coaster, acid-etched story (with) a galaxy of distinctive, memorable characters” - Bookseller

Catherine Forde was discovered on the slush pile. Before turning to writing full time, she worked as a lexicographer for Collins and taught in secondary schools. She lives in Glasgow with her husband and two sons. All her books have received wide acclaim and Fat Boy Swim won the Grampian Children's Book Award and was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Award and Booktrust Teenage Prize.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
This is a novel dealing with an issue more and more kids in the U.S. can relate to: childhood obesity. Jim Kelly lives in Glasgow, but the bullying and teasing he is subject to are universal, unfortunately. The opening scene of his treatment after missing an opportunity in a football game will make the reader cringe. The author wins instant sympathy for her main character, tormented by his peers and without an ally. Then Father Joe, aka. G. I. Joe, takes Jim under his wing. They strike a deal: Jim will use his hidden talent to cook for the priest's fundraiser if G. I. Joe will teach him to swim. Jim does not just learn to swim, he excels, gaining confidence and losing weight. While his progress is remarkably rapid, it is explained somewhat through the plot. Jim's swimming leads to the discovery of the secret his family has been keeping from him, and once he learns the truth he is relieved of the hunger that food could never satisfy. 2003, Delacourte Press/Random House, Ages 12 to 16.
—Mary Loftus
Fourteen-year-old Jimmy Kelly, an obese and depressed loner, is savagely bullied at his Scottish school. He keeps his one talent, cooking, secret for fear that parishioners who enjoy the sensational desserts he quietly donates for charities would be grossed out to learn the identity of the chef. Football (soccer) coach, Father Joe, known as "GI Joe" for his aggressive, in-your-face manner, decides to make a project of Jimmy. Once GI Joe teaches him to swim, Jimmy, implausibly, comes quickly into his own, shedding pounds, getting fit, becoming a champion swimmer, and developing the confidence to stand up to the bullies and to go after the girl he likes. Along the way, Jimmy uncovers a family secret that explains his phenomenal aptitude for competitive swimming. Jimmy also makes the disturbing discovery that his mother and favorite aunt both have been assuming false roles in his life. The novel burdens its hero with a few too many problems, all of which are resolved rather too neatly. The first of Forde's novels to be distributed in the United States, this one has not been "Americanized," and remains full of Scottish dialect, which will charm some readers while turning off others. There is no playful glossary for Americans, as in the novels of Deb Gliori and Louise Rennison. An awkward plot hamstrings a story with both a convincing setting-a gritty, working-class parish in Glasgow-and some strong characters, including a distinctive protagonist who fights through "huge" problems. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M J (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, Delacorte, 240p.,and PLB Ages 11 to 15.
—Walter Hogan
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Grossly obese Jimmy, 15, has meekly endured years of public humiliation and abuse. Soccer coach GI Joe, temporarily home from his work in Africa with AIDS orphans, becomes privy to the teen's secret-he has an innate talent as a chef. In exchange for Jim's help cooking for a fund-raiser, Coach agrees to teach him to swim. Mysteries abound: a "Shadow Shape" in the deep end of the pool haunts Jimmy's dreams; he falls for and attracts fiery, intelligent Ellie, who has limited vision; and he learns that "Mum" is his grandmother, "Aunt Pol" is his birth mom, and his biological dad-that shape-was a champion swimmer whom he resembles but has never known. In the improbable climax, Jim swims in his first competition and defeats his chief tormentor, Victor, and stands up to the sadistic PE teacher. The book's appeal seems limited. The teen's emergence from his fat-boy shell offers nothing that wasn't done in Robert Lipsyte's One Fat Summer (HarperTrophy, 1991), done again in Chris Crutcher's Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (Greenwillow, 1993), and done again in K. L. Goines's Fat Kid Rules the World (Putnam, 2003). The story is universal, to be sure, and the "love thyself" theme is important. But the sights, sounds, and colors of the Glasgow, Scotland, setting never come to life aside from the idiom and some slang, which are by turns a wee bit obtuse and a wee bit tiresome.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
For foodies and sports fans who can tolerate details of bullying. Fourteen-year-old Jimmy is berated throughout his Glasgow community for being fat. He's scorned by strangers, taunted by coaches, and punched by peers. When one of the taunting coaches takes him in hand and teaches him to swim, though, Jimmy's life begins to turn around. He's already a brilliant cook, but this skill has been kept secret; now that he can swim, he grows in confidence, shrinks in size, "comes out" as a chef, and has a tender romance with a girl who makes him melt. He's also better equipped to handle emerging family secrets. It's too bad that Forde's voice joins the bullies' in painting Jimmy's size as fascinatingly repulsive with terms like "clammy flesh-mound"; such unfriendly narrative description lessens Jimmy's personhood and his cheer-worthy victories. Otherwise, warm and full of vivid imagery. (Fiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher

"A gripping story about self-discovery and the thrilling transformation that sports can bring. . . . the messy ending is satisfyingly realistic." —Booklist

"A moving, tumultuous, roller-coaster, acid-etched story. . . A galaxy of distinctive, memorable characters." —Bookseller

Product Details

Egmont UK Ltd
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
10 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Fat Boy Fat

“Oi, boobsy. Move your fat butt! We’re under pressure here.”
One rasp from Maddo McCormack in goal was enough to set Jimmy stumbling up the pitch, as though someone had given him a wedgie up the backside.
He only shuffled half a dozen steps, each one making his thick flesh judder. The impact of his foot hitting the ground had him wheezing like an old accordion.
It was hopeless. Pointless. Jimmy halted. Leaned forward, hands on knees.
Somewhere to his left he could hear the flat clack of hockey sticks as the girls played their interschool final. Voices rose through the heat and drifted across to the field where Jimmy panted.
Summer sounds.
He hated them.
This summer was off to a bad start. For Jimmy anyway.
Unlike most years it hadn’t crept in: one wee glimpse of sun in April, followed by three weeks of rain and back on with the winter clothes, bit of snow in May, then a disappointing June.
First of May this year, a furnace blast of sunshine had scorched the west of Scotland. Day after day after day of stifling heat. Night after sleepless stuffy night. Even the ice cream vans struggled to chime through the thick air.
After two months of weather like this, Jimmy felt he was suffocating under his own sticky weight. Made worse because it was serious school sports season. No getting out of it.
At least today’s match was the payoff for eight weeks of peace.
Blow the whistle, Jimmy willed Hamblin, the ref. It had to be game over, otherwise he’d never have been forced from the sanctuary of the subs’ bench. Although St. Jude’s insisted that every pupil had a stint on the field, it was unspoken policy that Jimmy Kelly was only played in the dying moments of a game, and only then if St. Jude’s were winning.
They’d been up 2—1 when Jimmy went on.
Blow the whistle. Jimmy panted, lungs struggling to inhale enough air to let him straighten up, let alone move.
“Jimmy! J-i-i-i-m-m-y!
His name came hurtling toward him, screeched at maximum volume. A primitive chant. Carrying the threat–no, the promise–that he’d be ripped apart if he didn’t snap to it.
He had to look up. Wasn’t going to get away with playing the invisible hulk.
“Never mind them, moron. Get your eye on that ball! Kick it back up the pitch, Kelly. It’s at your feet, man!”
GI Joe was level with Jimmy on the sideline, eyeballing him. His proximity didn’t make him lower his voice any. He bawled as though his lungs would burst.
“Come on, big man. Chase that ball. Boot it up the field. He’s on your back. Aaach! What you playing at?”
Jimmy’s head went down. But that didn’t matter. He could see what GI Joe was doing without looking. Swinging his whole body round from left to right in utter despair. Like he always did when he tried to get Jimmy to shift. Shaking his head in dismay was never enough. Every bit of him had to join in.
Jimmy knew GI Joe’s face would be beet red, wriggly veins bulging from his temples under the line where his bristly crew cut began. His forehead would throb visibly from the effort of screeching down the field at Jimmy.
Later, when GI Joe tried to speak at normal volume, his voice would crack. If you didn’t know what kind of bloke Coach was you might think he’d been weeping.
Jimmy knew–again without having to look up–that even the charitable guys in defense were throwing him daggers over their shoulders as the play moved off up the field. Muttering curses under their breath. Wanting Jimmy taken off once and for all.
Others were more straightforward with their objections.
“What’s the balloon up to? Ball right at him and he lets it past.”
“Blinkin’ liability. Shouldn’t’ve let him on period.”
“Whales can’t play football.”
Jimmy stopped moving.
Might as well have been a universe away, the lot of them. He’d never catch up.

“Kick it back up. Naw. Up the way! Up the way!”
They were all at it now.
A dozen voices. Subs on the bench leaping up and down behind GI Joe. The rest of his side charging toward him. Circling like vultures.
“Here, Kelly.”
“Here, big man.”
“Straight back up to me. Hurry.
Flustered, Jimmy could barely tell one team from the other, the opposition just clones of his own side clad in different jerseys. All he knew was sweat on hungry faces, saliva stringing from open mouths as two thundering teams descended on him.
“Kick it now, Kelly!”
Even Jimmy couldn’t ignore that voice scaling two octaves in his ear, or the clasped entreaty of GI Joe’s sausage fingers under his nostrils. He’d have to make contact with that football. After all, it was sauntering almost casually in his direction as though it was out for a wee stroll on the pitch.
All Jimmy had to do was . . .
He gulped. Straightened up, searching the panting faces in the closing semicircle before him.
There was Victor.
Star player.
He’d aim for Victor.
Jimmy drew back his left foot, approximated a kick and–oof–was felled like an oak. His own defense had surged as one to tackle the nifty mover from the opposition who had figured out it would be tomorrow before Jimmy’s cleat touched that football. But it was too late. A superb slide kick shunted the ball just enough toward Maddo’s goal, where the opposition striker was poised.
On side.

• *
“Game over. Good effort, lads. ’Way and congratulate the oppo now.”
Hamblin, ref duties over, spat his whistle at Jimmy. Almost reluctantly, he peeled back the knot of players champing menac­ingly over the clammy flesh-mound lying winded on the grass.
Extending his long arms, Hamblin corralled the mob away, steering it toward the middle of the pitch. Beyond lynching distance of Jimmy.
Not once, however, did Hamblin check any of the insults his pupils hurled like clods over his shoulders in Jimmy’s direction. Not even when Victor nipped round him and crowed, “Fat Boy Fat,” to an accompanying volley of spit gobs and laughter.
Hamblin was too busy scowling at Jimmy himself.
“Bloody cup lost. Useless butterball shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a pitch.”

Meet the Author

Catherine Forde was discovered on the slush pile. Before turning to writing full time, she worked as a lexi cographer for Collins and taught in secondary schools. She lives in Glasgow with her husband and two sons. All her books have received wide acclaim and Fat Boy Swim won the Grampian Children's Book Award and was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Award and Booktrust Teenage Prize; The Drowning Pond was nominated for the Scottish Book Award and shortlisted for the Manchester Book Award; and Skarrs was longlisted for the Carnegie. Catherine's new thriller Sugarcoated is published in April 2008.

Cathy Forde’s novel Fat Boy Swim was discovered on Egmont’s slush pile in 2001. On publication it was shortlisted for many awards including the Blue Peter ‘Book I Couldn’t Put Down’ and the Booktrust Teenage Prize. It won the Grampian Book Award in 2004 and in 2014 has been voted the joint winner of winners. Cathy has subsequently written many more novels for children and young adults, including the award-­‐winning Skarrs and The Drowning Pond.

Cathy’s novels have been translated into several languages and many titles are on school curriculums throughout the United Kingdom.

In 2011 Cathy’s first play, Empty was produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, directed by Vicky Featherstone. She has been concentrating on playwriting since then : Chamber of Nothing (Pearson) for schools, and The Sunday Lesson and Supply for Glasgow Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie, A Pint. She has written two touring pantomimes and in 2013, adapted her novel The Drowning Pond as a musical for Youth Music Theatre UK. A radio play, Baby’s Coming Back was produced by BBC Radio Scotland in 2013.

Cathy is on commission to National Theatre of Scotland, adapting Fat Boy Swim for the stage.

Cathy was the Scottish Book Trust virtual writer-­‐in-­‐residence 2010-­‐11 and 2011-­‐12 and is an experienced creative writing and drama tutor.

She lives in Glasgow.

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