Published by Scholastic Press on May 27th, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Middle Grade
Nola Sutton has been best friends and neighbors with the Swift boys for practically her whole life. There’s the youngest, Kevin, who never stops talking; the oldest, Brian, who’s always kind and calm; and then there’s Canaan, the ringleader and Nola’s best-best friend. Nola can’t imagine her life without the Swift boys — they’ll always be like this, always be friends.
But then everything changes overnight.
When the Swifts’ daddy leaves without even saying good-bye, it completely destroys the boys, and all Nola can do is watch. Kevin stops talking and Brian is never around. Even Canaan is drifting away from Nola — hanging out with the neighborhood bullies instead of her.
Nola just wants things to go back to the way they were — the way they’ve always been. She tries to pull the boys back to her, only the harder she pulls, the further away they seem. But it’s not just the Swifts whose family is changing, so is Nola’s, and she needs her best friends now more than ever. Can Nola and the Swift boys survive this summer with their friendships intact, or has everything fallen apart for good?
Nola’s struggle to save her friends, her unwavering hope, and her belief in the power of friendship make Kody Keplinger’s middle-grade debut a poignant story of loss and redemption.
If you know me, you’ll know that one author I will always shout about, no matter what, is Kody Keplinger. Her young adult novels just have a way of being really emotional for me, and her refreshing voice perfectly conveys messages that I find to be extremely important to teenagers. Each of her books has really touched my heart in different ways, so when I heard that she was bringing out a middle grade novel, I was all for it. It’s different, to be sure, but again Keplinger brought that prickly sensation to my eyes.
With the backdrop of summer vacation, The Swift Boys & Me tells the story of Nola, who is closely befriended (or rather inseparable) from the Swift boys next door. The three brothers have been a part of her whole life, but suddenly it changes when their father abruptly leaves – without even saying goodbye. The boys start to drift apart in different ways, and, meanwhile, Nola’s mother is about to get remarried, in a move that would take her away from the Swift boys. What I love about this story, and what kind of surprised me but shouldn’t have, is how perfectly realistic Keplinger portrays this kind of story. Though the mindset of a 12-year-old girl is in fact quite distant from where I am now, I was swept up in this nostalgia of knowing exactly what Nola was going through. At that age, moving away from your friends feels like the end of the world, to be sure. She has so many doubts and uncertainties about how this will influence her life, and I couldn’t help but sympathize with her as I remembered a little Debby who went through the same kind of thing.
Divorce freaking sucks. I would know. My parents got divorced when I was in middle school, and though in my case neither parent just up and left, the overall feeling was rather the same. It was great to see how this influenced each of the Swift boys in different ways: Canaan stopped talking to Nola, thinking she wouldn’t understand, and became friends with some bullies. Brian tried to hold the family together, until it became too much and he needed to leave to concentrate on his own well being. And Kevin… heartbreaking Kevin… who was a non-stop chatterbox before, completely stopped talking. It perfectly captured the various phases children of divorce go through: denial, isolation, and guilt (though they are never the guilty ones). It was so poignant. Masterful. And I really liked the bonus of having Nola’s perspective – because even those not in the family are affected by a situation like this. It’s a difficult phase for everyone, but one that comes hand in hand with divorce.
When the boys are drifting away, Nola finds herself without the close friends she always had. However, she reluctantly branches out and makes some new friends in the neighborhood and comes to realize that being in that close, and almost exclusive, friendship with the Swift boys was actually holding her back – indeed, there were and would be other people out there. It’s a harsh truth as a kid and not something many realize, and it makes the message of this book a rather important one.
Lastly, with the various phases of being a child of divorce comes the desire to fix it. Because of Nola’s closeness with the Swift boys and her desire for things to go back to the way they were, even she tries to find the father and bring him back. No matter how well your intentions are, however, as a child, there’s very little you can do about serious adult issues, which can be quite disheartening. Keplinger doesn’t mince words in confronting readers with the realization that such situations are damaging in a way that cannot be undone. We can’t go back when so much has changed. But, as is Keplinger’s way, it doesn’t get too dark, and all of her characters do find a way to move forward with hope and love for the family they have left.