The Night Swimmers

by Betsy Byars

Paperback, 1983



Local notes

PB Bya




Yearling (1983), 144 pages


With their mother dead and their father working nights, Retta tries to be mother to her two younger brothers but somehow things just don't seem to be working right.


National Book Award (Finalist — 1981)
Young Hoosier Book Award (Nominee — 1983)
Utah Beehive Book Award (Nominee — Children's Fiction — 1984)
Maud Hart Lovelace Award (Nominee — 1985)

Original language


Physical description

144 p.; 7.55 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member BailsChris
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member debnance
Retta is in charge of her younger brothers while her dad is working at night as a country-western singer. She decides to sneak in a neighbor’s backyard and swim.

That’s really all the plot, but it’s so much more than I can share with you. There’s sibling rivalry. There’s dad needing to
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let Retta be a kid rather than a parent. And there’s Retta herself, who boldly tries to be mom to her little brothers. A 1001 CBYMRBYGU.
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
This is the story of Rhetta who left childhood behind when her mother died. Caring for her two younger brothers is a full-time job. Trying to learn to cook, to supervise, to judge right from wrong are tasks that should be handled by her country western singing father. But, alas, he leaves the house
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each night, dressed in his garish costumes as Rhetta holds down the fort.

One summer night while exploring, she found a large swimming pool. Creating an adventure for her brothers, they became the night swimmers.

As the brothers fight with each other and with Rhetta, she longs for stability. When the younger brother decides to go it alone and jump into the deep end of the pool, the owner takes him home to confront their father.

I found this too sad for words. It is never a good situation when a parent is child like, and a child is trying to be adult like!

When her father's girlfriend enters the story, she provides a vehicle of communication for Rhetta.

I didn't like this book, primarily because after all the mess, the girlfriends waltzes in and the author attempts a happy ending. Portraying the girlfriend as someone who wants to be waited on, yet wants to help with the children, didn't ring true for me.

One dull star for this book.
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(17 ratings; 3.1)
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