The Night Swimmers by Betsy Byars1
Retta, Johnny, and Roy have no parental rules to follow, so they’ve made up their own
After their mother passes away, Retta, Johnny, and Roy don’t have much parenting in their lives. Their dad is a country singer who keeps them well fed but isn’t around much. Older sister Retta takes control, leading her brothers on all sorts of unwise adventures and promising that one day they’ll have money, safety, and a nice home. When their dad is away performing at night, they slip into a neighbor’s pool to swim and pretend to have a glamorous life beneath the light of the moon. But freedom doesn’t mean happiness, especially when a new crisis emerges. National Book Award winner The Night Swimmers is a moving story of siblings who can count on nobody but one another.
The Night Swimmers by Betsy Byars tells the story of three children who have essentially lost both their parents the night their mother died. These children struggle to experience life and friendship because they have no one at home to support them or push them to do better than they are. One night Retta takes the boys to swim in a neighbor's pool. It is something they've never experienced before and it seems like this might be the one taste of a happy life -- a free life -- they'll ever get. But this freedom they've discovered by their father's lack of parental oversight just might be the demise of their very family.
Retta is who I consider to be the voice of reason in this story. Ever since her mother passed away, she had to step into the role of mother and she struggles with the desire to be a normal kid too. It's hard for her to watch other people live their lives, make friends, have good memories, and act like they don't have a care in the world. Rarely does she appear selfish in the story, mostly because she devotes so much of her time and effort to her brothers that I think she forgets about herself along the way. She faces the greatest challenges and the greatest losses as she fights to be her own person and controlling her brothers like only a parent can.
Johnny and Roy are typically boys, growing up in a world where they want to have adventure but on their own terms. They both struggle with the idea of Retta being the boss of them and that she basically has become the mother of the two of them. I think along the way the boys lose sight of all the things she has given up for them which makes them come off as selfish but it's hard not to acknowledge that children are like that. It seems like during the story, the two of them lose their innocence towards the outside world. They realize that not everything is good out there. They learn that there are consequences for their choices and these consequences just might not be the ones they want.
I always figured that when I found that one person I wanted to spend my life with, it would be even harder when the situation arose that I would lose them. It's something that I think a lot of people struggle with once a loved one passes away. How do they move on? What's the point in living when the one person who made it all better is no longer there? The children's father, Shorty, deals a lot with these sort of issues over the course of the book. I don't believe that he is selfish because he ignores his children and wants to live in the glory days of his music career. No, I think that he is just struggling to grasp at the few things he can control and the ruin left behind when his wife died. I think that if his wife were alive and the story was different, Shorty would've been a great father but things happened. He lost sight of his family and himself.
Overall it was a decent read. I had some troubles sticking with the characters at times but it is an interesting and very real idea that makes up the plot.