Fifteen-year-old girls need more than a big house, a country club membership, and music lessons. They need a steady source of emotional support. Sarah Kunitz knows that her family has failed her in some way but is unsure how or why.
Sarah's mother was a brilliant violinist who gave up music for afternoon card games, gardening, and cocktail parties when arthritis took control of her hands. Sarah senses her mother's other worldliness but doesn't know what's wrong with her. She blames her father for his complacency, and she can't find a way to make things right. After a combination of life-altering events shatters Sarah's world, the teen turns to her friends, and especially two boys, looking for acceptance and normality. When she gets more than she bargained for, true understanding comes from unexpected places.
Jessica Keener's lyrical Night Swim will most often be described as a coming-of-age story, and that description is not wrong. It is, however, more strongly an examination of a broken mother-daughter relationship.
Long ago I had a secret place in the backyard woods. I had a place in summer when it stayed light long after dinner and Mother let me play in the woods while she smoked and talked on the phone. I hummed, watching the sky turn a deeper blue, spilling across the clouds, becoming a flood of colors until Mother called me. I waited for her to call me. I leaned on this. (p. 276)The book can also be looked at as a snapshot of the early 1970s. For example, upper-middle-class women in Sarah's Boston neighborhood spent their afternoons at the country club, getting their hair done, or attending luncheons. Most of them smoked, and many of them took prescription Valium right along with their evening martini. Odd children were consider just that, odd. They didn't have Asperger's syndrome, and none of them had therapists.
Because Night Swim can be read on multiple levels, it's a great choice for book clubs. Among the issues readers will want to discuss are parenting, music, mental health, grieving, teen sex, and sibling relationships.