Summer of the Swans


Readability Age Range



Year Published

Book Review

This coming-of-age novel by Betsy Byars is published by Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA, and is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary

Fourteen-year-old Sara Godfrey can feel her emotions changing. She never used to be so jealous of her big sister, Wanda, or so frustrated with their guardian, Aunt Willie. She never used to be so irritated by Charlie, her younger brother who suffered brain damage at age 3. Her feet are big, she’s not pretty, and everything seems to make her angry.

A family of swans has made a rare appearance at the neighborhood park, and Sara takes Charlie to see them. One night, after everyone in the house has failed to help Charlie replace a button on his pajamas, the agitated boy tries to walk to the park alone. He soon gets lost and hurts himself on barbed wire.

In the morning, Sara, Wanda and Aunt Willie realize Charlie is gone. They call the police, and townspeople aid in the search. Aunt Willie calls the Godfrey children’s father, who has only made occasional visits since his wife’s death. Sara says, with irritation, that her father won’t come. She’s also annoyed when a schoolmate named Joe Melby offers to help her search for her brother. She’s convinced Joe once stole a watch from Charlie. Joe tells Sara he was actually the one who returned the item. Sara’s friend Mary confirms this is true. Sara feels bad for the way she’s accused and mistreated Joe. She apologizes to him as he helps her search the woods.

Joe knows the area well, and the kids locate Charlie before anyone else. Finding her brother safe and alive changes Sara’s perspective and helps her refocus on what matters in life. She’s shocked when Joe invites her to be his date to a party.

She also talks briefly to her father on the phone. Although he confirms he won’t be coming immediately, Sara doesn’t feel as resentful toward him as in the past. She suddenly realizes that he, too, is on a journey to find himself. She’s taken a big step out of darkness through this crisis, but she knows her father still has a long way to go.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Aunt Willie takes her responsibility as guardian very seriously because of a promise she made to the children’s dying mother six years earlier. Sara’s father makes occasional visits but has been emotionally and physically distant since Charlie’s illness and his wife’s death.

Profanity & Violence

Someone uses the phrase, “Lord willing,” but it is uncertain whether it is used to mean that if the Lord is willing, something will happen, or if it’s merely a conversational response.

Sexual Content


Discussion Topics

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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