Caterpillars Can’t Swim by Liane Shaw

Caterpillars Can't Swim

Caterpillars Can’t Swim was one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2018; the book is about disability & escapism via swimming – two topics which are very important to me. The book is also about learning about marginalisation & about your own worth. It’s a beautiful book & one that I wish I’d had when I first became sick with syringomyelia.

I was sent an e-copy of this book by Second Story Press in return for an honest review.


This book includes an attempted suicide, as well as ableist & homophobic attitudes from characters,
including a negative reaction from a parent in a “coming out” scene.

Before I start my review, I want to admit that the author did make a couple of mistakes with wording & phrases that were used within the book, & that there are some things that I would have asked to have been changed had I been a sensitivity reader for the book… but, if I’m honest, I can look past the issues that some of the writing has, because this book means a lot to me & is one that would have changed my life had I had it as a teenager. I haven’t read a finished version of this book yet, so the things that I picked up on may have been changed before publication; but if they haven’t & you pick up on those things too when you read Caterpillars Can’t Swim, please do not come to me about them, because I do not care, this book means the world to me & nothing will change that.

Okay, now that I’ve got that bit out of the way, I want to tell you how much of an incredible experience this book was for me to read; I related to main character Ryan in more ways than I have ever related to any other disabled character & this was something that brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. As a teenager, when I first got sick with syringomyelia, I had no idea of how ableist the people around me were – I didn’t realise that my “best friends” were actually pretty shitty about my situation & if I’d had this book to educate me at a younger age then it would have saved me a lot of heartache.

Ryan goes through a journey of learning more about marginalisation, in terms of his own situation & his friend’s homosexuality, & Ryan slowly realises that there is a lot of ableism built into his own mindset, as well as the people around him, including those who are supposed to care about him the most. Ryan’s journey may not seem very emotional to other readers, but for me it was like my own story had been put on paper, but with a few tweaks made to it. There are no words to explain how happy I am that this book is in the world, & if I ever get to meet Liane I will probably cry & snot all over her because of how grateful I am to her.

This book doesn’t just contain disability representation though; the secondary main character Jack is a not-openly gay teenager that occasionally likes to dress in clothes that society says are for girls/women; Jack attempts to kill himself at the start of the book as he is so upset & confused about who he is, & this is how Ryan & he meet – Ryan saves Jack from the water & an unlikely friendship slowly blossoms between them. When I first started the book I was unsure about the disability representation, but throughout the whole book the homosexual representation was done incredibly well; & I even thought, at one point, that it may be better than the disability representation. Together Jack & Ryan realise that how they have been treated isn’t acceptable & they find compassion & understanding within one another. It’s actually a very beautiful friendship & one that I wish I could experience for myself.

Talking about this book in a structured & coherent way has been difficult for me, because of how emotional the whole thing makes me, so I want to end this review with a paragraph that I wrote in my reading notes as soon as I finished the book;

In the end, this book taught some very important messages; it showed Ryan’s understanding of how he deserves to be treated flourish, whilst he also became more educated about other marginalised groups – he actually went on a very similar journey to me, although mine developed online. We also saw Jack realise that he was worth a lot more than the negative attitudes of other people, & we were able to witness his growth & development too. I still hate Cody, despite the small growth he went through, but he is a very accurate example of a lot of modern teens & young people, & his character added a lot to the story. I’m more than overjoyed about this book’s release & I hope I can meet Liane one day.

This book, for me, is the equivalent of what Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Hate U Give & Love, Hate & Other Filters is for other marginalised groups so please give it the Add to goodreadssame respect that you have given to those books; | | Book Depository | Wordery

Unfortunately, this book isn’t currently available on Audible.



2 thoughts on “Caterpillars Can’t Swim by Liane Shaw

  1. Thanks for this very detailed and thoughtful response! It means a lot coming from someone who has a greater understanding of Ryan’s situation than I do. You seem like a strong young woman dealing with a challenging situation and I appreciate that you would take the time and make the effort to think so deeply about my story. I wish you all the best. Keep reading and writing….you have a lot to share!

    Liked by 1 person

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