1971: The Summer of the Swans (family matters)

VERDICT: Trash

Sally’s Rating: 2.5/5

The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars is about one girl’s search for her mentally challenged brother who goes missing. Initially shallow and selfish, Sara learns that there is more to life than looks and finds that she must embrace her family, both their strengths and flaws.

The Summer of the Swans is very much a slice of life type of tale, focusing on Sarah’s “worst summer of her life.” Fourteen-year-old Sara is a decently developed character who acts very much like a girl her age. She constantly compares herself to her older and more beautiful sister and thinks that she is tall, gangly and has overly large feet. Additionally, she is burdened by her younger brother Charlie, whom she feels she has to babysit constantly because he has a developmental disability.

Her insecurities lead her to making many dumb mistakes that many young adolescents may sympathize with. When she figures out that her bright orange shoes are not trendy, she tries to dye them another color, which ends up in disaster. Later on, Sara takes a magazine photo to a hair dresser so she can be styled like a model, but ends up with a really bad cut. She makes a lot of mistakes, but by the end of the novel, she is able to learn how to be a better person. Sara is easily relatable, though a bit irritating, making her journey of self-discovery a fun part of this book.

The main narrative follows Sara as she must find her missing brother, Charlie, who she thinks went looking for some swans they had seen the day before. She teams up with a classmate who she thinks is a jerk to find him, and they end up better understanding each other after talking things out. Charlie also gets a point of view, which captures the simplicity, single-mindedness, and fear of his predicament in an engaging way. Everything ends up tied neatly in a bow with everyone one happy family at the end of the novel.

Overall, The Summer of the Swans was a bland story that reads more like an after school special than a prestigious award winning book. The main character’s travails may attract some younger readers, but much of the book feels dated and lacks the action needed to make this a real page turner.

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