Title: Elsewhere Girls
Author: Emily Gale and Nova Weetman
Genre: Time slip, historical fiction
Publisher: Text Publishing
Published: 4th May 2021
Synopsis: It’s midnight and I’m alone in the kitchen eating a cold potato scallop. Coach O’Call would say something like, ‘That’s not what I expect from a scholarship girl!’ because I have to be up for squad training in five hours and I’m not supposed to go near potato scallops, and—oh, yeah—it’s my fifth.
Cat has recently started at a new school on a sports scholarship, and she’s feeling the pressure of early morning training sessions and the need for total commitment. Fanny loves to swim and she lives for racing, but family chores and low expectations for girls make it very hard for her to fit in even the occasional training session.
Cat and Fanny have never met. They both live in the same Sydney suburb, but in different worlds, or at least different times: Cat in current-day Sydney, and Fanny in 1908. But one day, time slips and they swap places.
As each girl lives the other’s life, with all the challenges and confusion it presents, she comes to appreciate and understand herself and the role of swimming in her own life.
Narrated in alternating chapters by Cat and Fanny, Elsewhere Girls is a moving and funny story of two girls with a deep connection, one based on the Australian Olympic champion, Fanny Durack. It’s a fresh and engaging exploration of the challenges and pressures for young women growing up in the past and today.
Meet Cat and Fanny – two girls who are swimmers, over 100 years apart in Sydney. Fanny loves to swim, and hates having to do chores that keep her away from her passion in 1908. Cay is from 2021 and is on a swimming scholarship at a Sydney private school, and longs for days that are not dictated by swimming training and competition schedules. A chance swim at Wylie’s baths, and a stopwatch sees them switch places – Cat in Fanny’s body in 1908, and Fanny in Cat’s 2021 – and both girls navigate a new time, new body, a new family and new ways of doing things. Yet as they do, they begin to appreciate what they have – and can hopefully find a way to get home.
Emily and Nova have told Cat and Fanny’s in alternating perspectives and have managed to execute the balance of each girl in a different time and body well. They have captured the essence of both times, and the stark differences that each girl experiences. As Cat navigates 1980, dresses, corsets, and gendered expectations, Fanny see an easier world, but still scary. In 1908, there are still whispers of a plague that has just ravaged Sydney, and in 2021, it is as though COVID has ended – which was refreshing, and allowed the story to flow nicely, though there are some novels that incorporate the pandemic seamlessly too. It allowed the characters, what they knew, and what they learn to take centre stage, and illustrate the similarities, the differences, and the societal and familial expectations that they encounter, whilst mirroring each other in some ways.
I came to this book from a recommendation on a podcast, and it has been sitting on my shelf for weeks, and finally, I got to it. I loved it! I loved that women were the focus, and that the girls were able to navigate different times and attitudes but still learn that there were ways they could make small changes when trapped in the different times. This was done eloquently, and Emily and Nova made sure each action made sense and didn’t alter too much. The role this book plays in showing how expectations about what women can, could, and should do throughout history, right up to current times is evocative and shows that even though much has changed, we still have a long way to go to achieve equality in all areas, because there will always be people and institutions who expect less of women, or perhaps even think some things are not for women based on what some people assume and expect. Emily and Nova handled this fantastically, and created a timeless novel that gives women a voice and the strength to stand up for what they want.
Using a time slip novel to do this made sense and ensured that we experienced 1908 and 2021 – and this is a great novel, a lot of fun and perfect for readers aged ten and older. As an adult, I loved reading this book and wish there were more adult books like this that were a little gentler than what is available, as sometimes adults also need those gentle, calm books across all genres so we can take a break from the things that are more stressful. Cat and Fanny were such fantastic characters, and I loved the way their stories intersected and they came to understand themselves, their families, and in a way, they came to understand each other and the times they came from.
This was a brilliant novel, and I hope Emily and Nova do more together soon!