Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“This rags-to-riches story revolves around school teacher Soichi Sakamoto, who took a group of Japanese-American children from a poor, segregated Hawaiian sugar plantation and taught them how to be champion swimmers, practicing in one of the plantation’s fetid irrigation ditches. If the basis for the book doesn’t sound amazing enough, how the story unfolds—Japan vying for the Olympic games, Pearl Harbor being bombed, WWII changing the world forever—allows the story and characters to evolve in uplifting and heartbreaking ways.” » Full review
“It’s 1937 and Tokyo is campaigning to host the 1940 summer Olympics. Meanwhile, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, the children of sugar plantation workers are causing mayhem in the irrigation ditches. Checkoway (Creating Fiction; Little Sister) tells the astonishing journey of a schoolteacher who, with no prior knowledge of swimming or coaching, started a swim team for these children with the goal of making it to the Olympics. Guided by Coach Sakamoto, whose approach to swimming was both radical and tyrannical, the dream incredibly starts to become a reality. Members of the Three-Year Swim Club, as they are called, travel to the U.S. mainland, win national competitions, and are invited to international ones. As world events take a tragic turn, it becomes a long, frustrating wait as Olympics after Olympics is canceled. What place will swimming play in the lives of Coach Sakamoto and his swimmers as time passes, and will anyone be competition-ready when the games resume? VERDICT This captivating nonfiction, featuring engaging individuals and portraying a tumultuous time in history, chronicles Hawaii’s second golden age of swimming. Sports and history enthusiasts will enjoy this title as much as book clubs and general readers.”—Zebulin Evelhoch, Central Washington Univ. Lib.
“A brightly told story of the triumph of underdogs. In 1937, Soichi Sakamoto formed the Three-Year Swim Club, whose members were children of workers living on a Hawaiian sugar plantation. Sakamoto, a teacher who could hardly swim, had seen them …” » Full review