Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Swift Boys and Me, by Kody Keplinger

Nola, age 12, has been friends with the three Swift boys for her entire life. In fact, they live in the other half of the duplex. Brian, the oldest, is sensitive and kind. Kevin, the youngest, is constantly talking. And Canaan, the middle brother, is Nola's age, and he has always stood up for her.

Then one day, Mr. Swift gets in his car and drives away. He's left his family, without even a goodbye. Ironically, Nola saw him go, waved to him, and received a wave back, which, as she says, was more of a goodbye than the boys got.

And the Swifts fall apart. Kevin, who we find out blames himself because the last thing his father had told him to do was quit talking, goes mute. Brian tries to run the household for a while after their mother sinks into depression, but it's too much for him and in effect he runs away from home, staying first with one friend and then another. And Canaan takes up with the mean boys. Far from sticking up for Nola, he's now one of her tormentors.

Nola tries to support the boys, but succeeds only with Brian, and then only temporarily. She also tries to find their father -- mostly because she wants everything to go back to normal, which is no doubt realistic -- and actually does locate him living with another woman in the next town over. But Nola's life is changing, too. Her mom is remarrying, and the couple's plan to buy a house means Nola will have to move out of the duplex. And are the boys there for her? No, they are not.

My favorite aspect of the book is the characters. I liked Nola, the boys, her mom, the new stepdad, and Nola's other friends, Felicia and Teddy. We become disillusioned with Canaan, which I think is inevitable and probably the author's intent, not only because of how he's treating Nola, but because we come to suspect that Canaan's past bad-mouthing of Teddy was completely undeserved. In fact, now that Nola is less tied to Canaan, she is less dependent on his opinions and more able to stand up for herself.

The cover is a bit "cuter" than the novel itself, and does not portray Nola's slight overweight, which is often referred to in the story. (But as one of my editors once said, "That's marketing for you!") And it's possible that Nola understands everything just a bit too neatly at the end, although the plot threads are by no means tied up in a perfect bow. Recommended.

10 comments:

Vijaya said...

Oh, this sounds too sad ... and I know this is the reality for so many children who do not have a father and a mother in a stable, committed relationship.

Marcia said...

I think there was a time we wanted to believe that kids weren't really affected that much. This helps show that's not true, and with three kids reacting in different ways it gives more readers a chance to possibly see themselves in the story.

Emily R. King said...

This sounds very realistic. I've seen men up and leave their families and the wake they leave is monumental. Thanks for the rec!

janet smart said...

This sounds interesting and one that a lot of kids could possibly relate to.

Marcia said...

Emily -- Yes, it certainly is, and this book deals with the subject without being a real downer.

Janet -- For kids who turn to books as comfort when their own lives are shaky, this could be a real help.

Kim Van Sickler said...

Unfortunately it sounds like an all-too-real situation. And not surprising about the cover girl not syncing up with the book girl in physical appearance. Yes, it is marketing, but you could still have an attractively shaped girl with more meat on her; or wearing an outfit that doesn't emphasize her body. If body image is a big part of the book, it's a shame the cover doesn't reflect that.

Marcia said...

Kim -- That does send a message all its own, doesn't it, when body image in the book doesn't match the cover?

Medeia Sharif said...

I'm sure this story will comfort children in the same situation. I've read many books that don't match the cover. I would rather they do.

I've read the author's YA and would love to read her MG.

Mirka Breen said...

When many lost parents while very young to illness, we understood why children's stories depicted so many orphans. Today the loss is often due to divorce or other psychological or spiritual dysfunction. It is fitting that this loss, sadly too common, makes it to stories for children.

Marcia said...

Medeia -- I guess I've come to accept that both titles and covers are mainly marketing tools, and I think people are fine with it as long as it doesn't feel TOO much like bait and switch.

Mirka -- It is, and adding the fact that it's convenient to "get parents out of the way" in a story means we see it even more.