The Swift Boys & Me is a study of how grief can affect a family and the aftermath of divorce and the changes that come with remarriage. This isn’t a romance nor a light frolic. Author Keplinger does a good job of exploring protagonist Nola’s confusion and frustration when the boys next door when her lifelong friendship with them begins to change in ways she doesn’t want.
Story: 12 year old Nola lives in a duplex in a suburb in Kentucky. In the house attached to hers, the 3 swift boys, Brian, Canaan, and Kevin live. They’ve grown up together, playing and exploring, creating what she thought would be a lasting friendship. But then Mr. Swift drives away one night and doesn’t return. Each of the boys deal with the grief of his abandonment differently: 14 year old Brian takes responsibility for the family with grim determination and resigned acceptance, 12 year old Canaan (Nola’s special friend) explodes into anger and rebels, youngest Kevin retreats into himself and refuses to talk again. Then Nola’s mother and her boyfriend finalize their long term relationship and announce they are going to move Nola’s family to the other side of the City, away from the Swift boys.
The boys and Nola are written very well. Keplinger grew up in Kentucky and creates a voice in each of the characters very much of that location. Admittedly, the poor language and grammar were offputting and I had to remind myself that Tom Sawyer wouldn’t have been as good of a book if it was written in normal English. But at the same time, it did make the characters seem very uneducated and somewhat backwards when they thought as they talked, with all the ‘would have gotten’ and “ain’t neither” thrown in there.
Suitable for a 12 year old audience, the book is easy to read and follow. As the boys retreat, Nola will rediscover old friends who were ‘pushed out’ by her reliance on the Swift boys for companionship. This includes a potential new boyfriend who has liked her a long time but always abused by middle Swift boy Canaan.
In all, a good read, well written, and with a lot of pathos for the situation of divorce and marriage.
Reviewed from an ARC.