Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry
Crown • $24 • 9780307718389
On sale February 22, 2011

Sara J. Henry's debut starts with a bang—or, more literally, a splash—and doesn't let up until the final page. It's a classic "what-if" scenario: what if you were on a ferry and noticed a child falling from the ferry heading in the opposite direction? What if you jumped off the ferry to save that child?

What if that child had been pushed?

The aftermath of heroine Troy Chance's rescue of the boy, a French Canadian child named Paul, brings further complications. He doesn't seem to have been reported missing, and his arms were bound when he was thrown off the ferry. Unable to trust anyone, and increasingly concerned about the future of her shy and damaged young charge, Troy finds herself in the middle of a dangerous mystery.

I went to the doorway and it took me a moment to register that the bed was empty. No boy, no dog. For a moment I couldn't breathe. . . . My eyes went to the bedside table where we'd left the half-eaten piece of pizza. OK, missing boy, missing dog, missing half slice of pizza.

"Paul," I called out softly. "Paul, where are you? Où es-tu?"

A whine from Tiger. I eased back the hanging sheet that served as a closet door, and there was Paul crouched in the corner, one arm around Tiger, the other hand gripping the gnawed piza slice—looking as if it were perfectly normal to hide in a closet with a dog and a piece of pizza. I knelt, a careful distance away. "Good morning Paul," I said, keeping my voice steady. Would you like some breakfast? Veux-tu prendre le petit déjuner?"

He shifted but seemed unsure what to do. I snapped my fingers and Tiger obediently came toward me. "Did something frighten you?" I asked Paul. "Tu as peur?" No answer. "Paul, sweetie, come on out," I said, opening my arms and letting a little emotion into my voice.

He wouldn't look at me, and I waited a long, long moment. Finally he moved into my arms. I could feel the frailty of his limbs; I could feel his heart beating; I could almost feel his fear and confusion and loneliness. I hadn't known you could form an attachment to a person so quickly, so atavistically. Had my sisters experienced this when their children were born? I realized I would do anything to protect this child. "Je ne te blesserai jamais," I whispered to him. "I will never hurt you. Never."

And I knew I wouldn't be marching this boy down to the police station, not today, and possibly never.

You can download a chapter of the book here. What are you reading this week?

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