Author: Kody Keplinger
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2
Synopsis: Nola Sutton has been best friends and neighbors with the Swift boys for practically her whole life. There’s the youngest, Kevin, who never stops talking; the oldest, Brian, who’s always kind and calm; and then there’s Canaan, the ringleader and Nola’s best-best friend. Nola can’t imagine her life without the Swift boys — they’ll always be like this, always be friends.
But then everything changes overnight.
When the Swifts’ daddy leaves without even saying good-bye, it completely destroys the boys, and all Nola can do is watch. Kevin stops talking and Brian is never around. Even Canaan is drifting away from Nola — hanging out with the neighborhood bullies instead of her.
Nola just wants things to go back to the way they were — the way they’ve always been. She tries to pull the boys back to her, only the harder she pulls, the further away they seem. But it’s not just the Swifts whose family is changing, so is Nola’s, and she needs her best friends now more than ever. Can Nola and the Swift boys survive this summer with their friendships intact, or has everything fallen apart for good?
Nola’s struggle to save her friends, her unwavering hope, and her belief in the power of friendship make Kody Keplinger’s middle-grade debut a poignant story of loss and redemption.
Huge thank you to Scholastic and Netgalley for this ARC!
I’m a new Kody Keplinger fan, and since I’ve enjoyed all of the books I’ve read by her, it was natural I was going to end up devouring The Swift Boys and Me. If there’s one thing Keplinger does well, it’s give us characters with very distinct voices and personalities, and Nola and the Swift boys follow suit.
What I loved about this story is it’s one of growing pains. Nola spends a large chunk of her life next door to the Swift boys, so she knows a lot about their difficult family life and hardships, yet never judges them for it. Moreover, when when she’s mad at Canaan in particular, there’s a part of her that is always waffling between forgiveness and aggression, and her emotions are so perfectly written.
To be honest, I’m not sure why people are weary of Kelinger writing a middle grade novel, because I think she borrows her talents of making tough exterior characters and bringing them to a new playing field. Nola has so much growing and learning, much like Whitney in A Midsummer’s Nightmare, but has the spunk of Bianca from The Duff. She’s a fantastic little protagonist to follow — she knows what she wants, and she is always seeking to the do the best or right thing. I love that about her.
I was also in love with Teddy. He was just such a great character from the start. Wasn’t likeable right away, but he grows on you and experiences the same types of growing pains that Nola does. I also loved Canaan because he goes through a different kind of growing pain, and one that makes him so unlike-able at times, yet you feel for him. You feel for him from the start of the novel to the end.
Ultimately, what I loved is that The Swift Boys and Me captures growing pains with such ease, that it makes for a great read. The characters are fantastic, Nola’s voice eases the reader into the complications of her life and the life of those around her, but there’s always this glimmer of hope. If you love Keplinger’s YA books, don’t be afraid to try her first middle grade endeavour — it’s a beautiful story of friendship.