Review of The Summer of the Swans

The Summer of the Swans
by Betsy Byars
142 pp.    Viking    3.95   
Library edition 3.77

Illustrated by Ted CoConis. The demand for realism in children’s fiction continues to call forth a spate of problem books, some of them relatively successful, some scarcely more literary than case histories. But seldom are the pain of adolescence and the tragedy of mental retardation presented as sensitively and as unpretentiously as in the story of Sara and Charlie, the brain-damaged younger brother she loved so protectively. Sara, in her fourteenth summer, felt the rhythm of her life break down and anger, confusion, and discontent rush in. She experienced a new self-consciousness, a feeling of being clumsy, too tall, and hopelessly unattractive; unwillingly she envied the serenity of her pretty, older sister; and Charlie, dependent and often importunate, seemed to be a constant concern. “She was doing the same things she had done last summer…and yet everything was different. It was as if her life as a huge kaleidoscope, and the kaleidoscope had been turned and now everything was changed. The same stones, shaken, no longer made the same design.” Then, one warm night, Charlie, unable to sleep, slipped out in the darkness and disappeared; and at the end of an anguished, unforgettable day of searching, Sara knew that she had found even more than a terrified, lost little boy. A subtly told story, echoing the spoken and unspoken thoughts of young people.

From the February 1971 Horn Book Magazine.

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