Book Review: Betsy Byars’ The Summer of the Swans

Posted February 19, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews, Target Audience, Young Adult readers

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Betsy Byars’ The Summer of the Swans

The Summer of the Swans


Betsy Byars

fiction that was published by Viking Books For Young Readers on March 30, 1970 and has 142 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

A standalone fictional novel for young adults revolving around fourteen-year-old Sara, just hitting puberty with all the angst of it.

In 1971, The Summer of the Swans won the Newbery Medal.

My Take

Puberty is hitting Sara hard, and Byars is absolutely brilliant in her depiction of the angst and drama of a young teen with the frustrations about her father and her impatience with her little brother — this rings so true of sibling relationships! Her intense sense of right and wrong as well as her desire to protect along with that so-very-thin skin.

It’s the mid-1960s, and in just a few pages, Byars gives us a quick peek into a few days of the Godfrey family’s life with the focus primarily on Sara, and then Charlie, providing us with a lifetime of information and still leaving us wanting to know more.

I want to know why Aunt Willie is helping the family like this? What is her past? Why does their dad work out of town? What was the illness? What will happen with Charlie? How does their dad feel about them all? What is his perspective? How does Sara fare at the party?

The Story

This summer is just awful. Nothing is going right. Sara knows it’s the same as last summer…it’s just…something is different this year.

Then Aunt Willy forces Sara to take her brother along to see the swans, for it causes an awakening in Charlie in the night. A need to see the swans again. And Charlie disappears.

That next morning is frantic as the family panics with Sara rushing out to search. A search aided by her enemy where she learns the truth.

The Characters

Sara Godfrey is 14 in this summer, and she’s bored, angry, and obsessed with how horrible she looks…especially her h-u-g-e feet. Mary Weicek is her best friend…she has must be, as endlessly patient as they are with each other’s quirks!

Wanda is her older sister. Charlie is their 10-year-old mentally challenged brother, damaged by a traumatic illness when he was very young. Aunt Willy lives with the three children while their father Samuel works out-of-town during the week.

Frank is Wanda’s boyfriend and arrives to take Wanda down to the lake to see the swans. On his motor scooter!! Joe Melby is a boy in her class. A boy whom Sara despises for what he has done.

The Cover and Title

The cover seems to be a cream net on top of a cream background with a 1960ish, soft Peter Max quality to the ethereal purple and blue swan skimming across the cover around and through the sketched and patchy watercolor of Charlie and Sara who appear to be sitting in mid-air. The green wake as it splits at the swan’s breast is repeated in Charlie’s trousers with the purples and blue repeated in Sara’s pants. Charlie’s horizontally-striped T-shirt is in creams, a lavender purple and a deep purple-violet. Sara’s tennis shoes are the bright orange that had cheered her so.

The title reflects The Summer of the Swans that has enthralled Charlie and left Sara so restless.