Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars won the Newbery Medal in 1971. I was able tell by some of the language and clothing that it was set in the 70s. There are also some drawings on the inside that dated it a little. However, I believe that this is a timeless story. We see a 14 year-old girl, Sara, caught up in the "misery" of her own life. Her feet are too big, her arms to thin, and her nose is too crooked. All of these things are brought into perspective when her 10 year-old mentally handicapped brother, Charlie, goes missing. This is the story of the day her worldview changed.
Swans is a quick and easy read. It probably took me a little over 2 hours. Faster readers could do it quicker! This story had exactly what I felt was missing when I read "Jacob Have I Loved". Both main characters really looked at the negative things in life, and both are named Sara! Sarah in Jacob Have I Loved found a way out of her circumstances but never really saw how negative she had been. It was all justifiable to her but it never was to me as a reader! Sara in Summer of the Swans really comes around and sees what is truly important in life.
None of the characters in the book are flat. Byars does an excellent job of telling the back story of Charlie, the mentally handicapped brother. I also really liked Aunt Willie, who has been taking care of them since their mother died. Her older sister Wanda is in the story for a shorter time, but I think that is what allows Sara to really respond to her brother's disappearance.
I realize I have not yet mentioned the swans! The title of the book comes from the excitement that is caused when 5 swans show up in a lake in Sara's small town.
In the final pages of the book we hear about this mental picture that she has of each of her family members on a set of stairs representing their different stages of life. I think that this represents a moment of growth for Sara and that it was a great conclusion to the story.
I couldn't help but think that this story would be very different if it was written today. Unfortunately, I don't think children would be nearly as excited to go see swans for entertainment. I also realized how corrupt my own mind was when I thought to myself that if Charlie had gone missing today that there are far more dangers that he could have encountered. But this was a simpler time, and I think that is one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much.
Two thumps up!