Nola has been best friends her entire life with her next-door neighbors, the three Swift brothers. Now, in response to their father’s desertion, the brothers have changed.
Brian, older than Nola, Kevin, a fair bit younger, and Canaan, just her age and her “best-best friend,” have seemed like the most perfect of buddies till now. After their father abruptly leaves, Brian soldiers on, filling in for his depressed mother, before he too is overwhelmed. Kevin, always a chatterbox, becomes mute, and worse, angry Canaan is now hanging around with the neighborhood bullies, adopting their brutal ways and even betraying Nola. Determined to help, Nola hatches a childish plan to find Mr. Swift and convince him to return home. Interweaving Nola’s memories—scenes from happier times are italicized to distinguish them from the present-day narrative—Keplinger skillfully creates a depth to these friendships that have defined Nola’s childhood. These scenes go beyond providing the background for their complex relationships, especially with Canaan; they also begin to offer Nola some insight into why the brothers have changed so dramatically. Everything else is changing as well, as Nola faces the transition to middle school, her mother plans remarriage, and a move is envisioned. Realistically, there’s no easy solution; the conclusion doesn’t sugarcoat the pangs of growing up.
A fine, honest and heartfelt coming-of-age tale. (Fiction. 10-14)