Hi! Welcome to this week’s Newbery Pie! Today, Sara and I will be discussing The Summer of the Swans, the 1971 Newbery winner.
Sara’s Review: I should have already read Summer of the Swans because it is on our Elementary Battle of the Books list, but it is one of the few selections that I didn’t read. I really enjoyed it , and it was a fast read. The author, Betsy Byars, is from my home state of North Carolina, and I share a name with one of the characters. It is even spelled the same way.
Sara is a fourteen year old living with her aunt, her older sister, Wanda, and her younger brother, Charlie, who is described in 1970s terms as “mentally handicapped” because he never speaks. Sara is his strongest defender. One time she soaks a girl in a silk dress with a hose for calling him a “retard,” and her biggest enemy is the boy she thinks stole Charlie’s watch. At the same time, she is resentful at having to be responsible all the time.
The main event of the story is the family waking up one morning to find that Charlie has disappeared. Sara, whose biggest concern up to this point is her disastrously dyed tennis shoes, is determined to find him.
Sara really isn’t a likable character in the beginning; she complains a lot and is very judgmental. I couldn’t help but compare her to Julia from Up A Hill Slowly. They both lost their mother, and are living with their aunts instead of their fathers. While Sara defends a character against bullies, Julia participates in bullying of a character. However, that character is her brother, not a classmate. How can we say that Julia would not have done the same thing as Sara under different circumstances or vice versa?
I think as we think about book characters to remember that as human beings, we do not fit into categories, and we develop and evolve over time. I know that I’m better at 37 than I was at 17 or 27. Even now, some days I know I am not my best self. And I agree with what Benji said in his Up a Hill Slowly review: who wants to read about boring one-dimensional characters anyway?
I give it four out of five Newbery Pies.
I jokingly told Sara that I hoped that I would hate this one, so I could say, “The best part about this book was that I found a copy at the thrift store for 79 cents (true story)” in my review. Alas, I didn’t hate it at all. It would have made a great line.
I don’t know if I found Sara’s character totally unlikable. She was a pretty normal teenage girl, over-worried about looks and unimportant things like that. That’s just part of being a teenager, I think. I immediately found some redeeming qualities in her, her fierce love and devotion for her brother being the biggest. She may have been rude and obnoxious to a lot of the other characters, but as a sister, she was exactly what Charlie needed. Her temper and fiery personality made it tough for her to apologize to Joe Melby once she realized she was wrong about the watch incident, but she did, and that said a lot to me about how much she had grown up in the two days in which this book takes place.
There were a lot of amusing scenes, like when her sister’s boyfriend gets her aunt to ride on the motor scooter, and when Sara dies her shoes puce, accidentally. Those tone in those parts of the book reminded me a lot of It’s Like This Cat.
The one part of the book I really didn’t like was Sara’s relationship with her father. I’m ok with a character having a poor relationship with a parent. That’s just the way things are sometimes, but it seemed like it was just mentioned, but never really dealt with, even at the end when he calls. It felt like an unfinished part of a story in which everything else is wrapped up pretty neatly.
I also give the book 4 out of 5 Newbery Pies
Next up: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH