THE NIGHT SWIMMERS by Betsy Byars
Kirkus Star

THE NIGHT SWIMMERS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Acutely perceptive and crystal clear; deeply attuned to kids' feelings yet cool-eyed and shrewd; and, to boot, a solidly realized story propelled by original, huggably vulnerable characters: This story of a shallow, career-minded country singer's three motherless kids is just what a children's novel should be. Retta (for Loretta Lynn) has raised her brothers since their singer mother was killed in a plane crash; and she takes her role as mother hen and recreation director with fierce solemnity. Bossy, she turns them out at midnight (their father is off performing) to steal swims in a neighboring colonel's pool. ("We're going to do all the things rich people do. Only we have to do them at night, that's the only difference.") But Retta's control slips when brother Johnny--bursting with self-satisfaction and the certainty of her chagrin-makes a friend. (Not just any friend, but a boy who makes and flies his own airplanes, with radio controls.) Soon, Retta has lost her puppeteer's hold on Roy, the youngest, to the glamour of Johnny's friend. Moody and undone, she follows the boys and spies on them, fired by motherly concern (as she insists) but also seething with jealousy like the child she is and the power-player she is becoming. When Retta slips out one night on Johnny's tail, Roy ends up, panicked, in the pool. The colonel rescues him and summons their father, who arrives home in his pink velour cowboy suit; and in the ensuing showdown Retta "felt as bewildered as a child whose dolls have come to life and are demanding real attention." Though this is Retta's story, each of her brothers has his spotlit moments. "Invisible" Johnny's late-blooming sense of self is heartening to behold; and Roy, indicatively, is touchingly disabused of a running fantasy about an offstage, odiferous plant. (They should shut it down, says Retta, but Roy has envisioned chopping it down.) Retta, shocked into self-awareness by the pool incident and by Johnny's friend's challenge ("and do you think for them too?"), is eased into letting go by the sympathetic guidance of her father's girlfriend Brendelie--who shows signs of relieving Retta by marrying into the family. Byars takes us all into the family, and puts us in touch with the humanity behind the tacky (father), the officious (Retta), and the invisible among us.
Pub Date: April 30th, 1980
ISBN: 0174324308
Page count: 113pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1980




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