In Jessica Keener's Night Swim, singer-songwriter Sarah Kunitz receives an e-mail that triggers memories of 1970, the year she turned sixteen and the year everything changed. Despite the big house, country club membership, and expensive cars, young Sarah senses that her family is not flourishing. Her mother, once a talented violinist, is wracked with pain from arthritis and spends her days in her bedroom or at the club. Sarah's brothers and father are caught up in their own worlds, and the girl is left with no true anchor. After a series of events--starting with a Boston Harbor dock strike--forever change Sarah's world, she turns to her peers, desperate to find acceptance and an emotional connection, especially with two boys. When she gets more than she bargained for, true understanding comes from unexpected places.
Night Swim is a beautifully written coming-of-age story that focuses on the mother-daughter relationship. Sarah knows her mother is different but she can't figure out how or why. Is her mother irresponsible, uncaring, selfish, or maybe even crazy? The teen is frustrated because it was "as if we'd made a silent family pact" not to talk about her mother. That silence was to haunt Sarah.
Book clubs will find a lot to talk about, including parenting, grieving, teen sex, sibling relationships, and the healing power of music. Because Keener perfectly captures the sociocultural atmosphere of the upper-middle-class of the time, from the cocktail parties with their stuffed mushroom hors d'oeuvres to the immaculate rose garden and live-in black housekeeper, readers can't help but notice how everyday life has changed, even for the wealthy. In addition, book clubs will want to discuss how far mental health care has come in the last forty years in terms of diagnosis, therapy, and pharmaceuticals.
A quotation from Night Swim appears on Beth Fish Reads.
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