A couple of years ago, I reviewed Allie Larkin’s novel Stay, about a woman who accidentally orders a dog off the Internet and experiences the ups and downs of being a first-time dog owner. Having lived around and loved dogs my entire life, I was drawn to the story of how getting a dog as a young adult can make life exciting.

Larkin’s latest novel is Swimming for Sunlight, the story of Katie Ellis, a 27-year-old who return to her native Florida with her rescue dog Barkimedes (“Bark”) after divorcing her ex-husband Eric. Katie moves back in with her grandmother Nan, and reconnects with her best friend Maureen and former love Luca. Nan, who belonged to a mermaid performing group in her younger years, starts planning a reunion performance with Katie’s help. Katie volunteers to design their costumes using her sewing skills. Despite being back in familiar areas, Katie struggles with anxiety and fear of water due to a tragic childhood experience, and it’s affecting all areas of her life.

As someone who suffered with anxiety for years, I could relate to Katie’s inner dialogue. Worrying a little about something is pretty normal, but anxiety can magnify it to the point where it’s all you can think about, especially when trying to sleep at night. Larkin accurately depicts how anxiety not only affects you mentally, but physically too. One noteworthy line from page 255, “For days I’d felt like a balloon ready to pop. The pressure was finally dissipating.”

Larkin also portrays how dogs can sense their owner’s habits and embody them. Bark’s reluctance to go for typical walks reflects Katie’s fear of venturing out. As she begins coping with her obstacles, Bark starts to show improvement as well. Katie’s experience emphasizes how anxiety can affect everyone differently, and that treatment options can differ from person to person.

I recommend this novel because it shows the importance of addressing mental health and how friendships are important. My favorite line of this book comes on page 305 when Katie’s friend tells her: “You’re not your anxiety. You are a person who has anxiety. I’m not going to take an anxiety attack as the symbol of all you are as a person.”

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