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Night Swim Paperback – January 10, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 118 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When her mother is killed in a car accident, Sarah, 16, lives in “a cavity of pain,” and each chapter in this eloquent first novel captures the teen’s anger, guilt, loneliness, and sorrow at her wrenching loss. Part of a Jewish family in a rich 1970s Boston neighborhood, she is not into politics, uninterested in Nixon and Vietnam, not much bothered by the occasional “dirty Jew” slur she hears at school. She likes comics and music and her gorgeous classmate Anthony. What does enrage her is Dad’s relationship with his new girlfriend. Always true to the teen’s viewpoint, the spare prose will hold readers as Sarah fights with her brothers, bonds with the housekeeper, tries to blame her dad for the accident (why did he let Mama drive alone?), and deals with her first sexual relationship. Rooted in personal sorrow, this memorable debut will strike a universal chord with readers: “Life was full of befores and afters.” --Hazel Rochman

Review

"This memorable debut will strike a universal chord with readers--" Booklist
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"Keener's observations perfectly capture a certain kind of 1970s adolescence"--The Boston Globe
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"This earnest debut centers on Sarah as she tunnels through new depths of loneliness...moving." --The New York Times
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"Keener's writing is lovely; she manages to build sentences that are both precise and ornate."
Jewish Book Council


"--a masterfully told tale. The emotional depth of this novel has me constantly recommending it to friends in book clubs." Largehearted Boy
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"Keener isn't afraid to tackle controversial topics and meets them head on, with strength and precision in her writing that's not only beautiful, but poetically lyrical--" A Soul Unsung


"this one was near perfection...and I very rarely say that. This is an author I will be following." 5 stars, Books Like Breathing


"Keener's prose is spectacular, almost poetic. I found myself rereading many of the passages just to experience the beauty of her written word. She gives the reader the gift of a wonderful, honest, coming-of-age story. At just under 300 pages it is not a long read, but one that will resonate." Jenn's Bookshelves


Night Swim is a beautifully written coming-of-age story that focuses on the mother-daughter relationship.Book clubs will find a lot to talk about, including parenting, grieving, teen sex, sibling relationships, and the healing power of music." Candace, She Knows.com
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Fiction Std (January 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1936558262
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936558261
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,215,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Night Swim is an exemplary coming-of age story of sixteen-year-old Sarah Kunitz. Jessica Keener leads us into the deeper waters of the family angst with a raging father and a mother who is but a shadow of herself, barely there, and three younger brothers who survive the inner turmoil through music, books and the fantasy world of a child.

Keener doesn't shy away from class issues, race issues, extreme loss and mourning, injustice, anti-Semitism, psychological abuse by the father and Sarah's first teenage experiences with sex.

Keener's words are fluid like music, which she quotes throughout the book, as Sarah moves through her familial world trying to understand it. When Sarah's mom dies in what is construed as a passive suicide, the youngest son, Elliot, is the wise soul that Sarah finds consolation in. "In his nine-year-old mind that had matured emotionally beyond the clumsiness of his body, he said that God was like clay and that all things on earth came in different shapes - including mother - and that mother had simply been remolded, but still remained a part of us."

Keener is a master at building the narrative slowly and rhythmically. Sarah gains her confidence, her voice and her independence through the beautiful relationships she shares with her brothers, the maids and her parents in this heart wrenching and unforgettable story of the underbelly of a family who appear to have it all from the outside, yet behind those curtains there is a restrained hell breaking loose.

Keener rips through to the core of what matters most in life - letting go of the secrets and revealing the truth. Night Swim is a superlative novel and a smooth read. It's one of those books you never want to come to an end.

I highly recommend Night Swim to all! Order your copy now! You will be happy that you did!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was on sale and nearly every review I read, even the negative ones, praised its lovely prose. I thought I'd give it a try. It had been a long time since I'd read a book like this.

But it frustrated me. The prose was lovely; it was true. Keener has a talent for weaving a unique and evocative phrase. But I feel as if the story and its themes didn't match the depth of her writing skill.

Keener drives almost absent-mindedly through this tale of a teenage girl dealing with the grief of her mother's death. That backbone to the story seems to get lost in crushes, drug use, sex, bigotry, and music. Time skips along, huge chunks of life go missing, gulped away as the reader is introduced to a new series of moments that Keener has deemed noteworthy. Don't get me wrong, the author vividly describes all of these experiences with the kind of detail and craft most authors skip out on. But they just seem loose, barely connected by the wisps of grief courting the edges of the story.

I felt like the protagonist, Sarah, wasn't going anywhere. And, although I'm sure Sarah felt that way (especially because Keener liked to build paragraphs out of the questions wheeling through Sarah's mind), I didn't want to feel that way as a reader. Meanwhile, as aimless as Sarah seemed, I sometimes felt like Keener was just going through a recipe for "litfic novel." Here were the allusions to pop culture. Here were the repeating symbols (tunnels and funnels came up a lot). Here were the finely-crafted sentences describing the emotional heartbeats of a life-changing moment. After a while I got frustrated and just wanted the book to be over so I could move on to something that might have a few more surprises, a few imperfections, and not feel so contrived.
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By JHH on July 14, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sorry to deviate from the glowing reviews, but this book was boring and stereotypical. I felt like anything that could happen did happen. This book tried to wrestle with a lot of issues, but ended up glossing over them. (Almost reminded me of Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons, but thank god not that long!) Also, I did not like the fact that at the beginning of the book, we were introduced to Mickey, but he was never really heard of again. The times when she flashed back to the present was very disruptive and did not, in my mind, do anything for the novel until the end. And the ending itself... very abrupt. I am glad I downloaded this for free.
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Format: Paperback
NIGHT SWIM will take you deep inside the thoughts, feelings, and experience of a young girl's journey through painful family circumstances, while also capturing the time period. Growing up in the 70's meant growing up in a time of chaos, change, and being part of historical growth for the nation. Keener captures the time, while keeping the reader firmly in the point of view of a sixteen-year-old girl's experiences. The music, the changing cultural mores--it's all here, along with a lyrical style of writing that is it's own music.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It would probably be too glib to sum up Night Swim as "F. Scott Fitzgerald meets That 70's Show," but it's not that far off base. The incredible accuracy (and ever-growing emotional awareness) with which Keener captures the nuance and dysfunction of her protagonist's parents' social lives is right up there with The Great Gatsby, only in this case we are seeing it through the eyes of a teenage girl. And she nails the heady, confusing time that the 70's were - both for children and parents - with an unerring authenticity and eye for detail. Speaking of detail, Keener's descriptive gifts are considerable, with amazingly insightful similes and descriptive phrases at every turn, without ever becoming flowery or self-indulgent.

Although the tone of the book is quiet, and the cast of characters relatively small, the book's scope is anything but small, touching on the many components that made that era such a turbulent time: class, race, sex, drugs, music, and war. All in all, Night Swim is a thoughtful, satisfying read, and highly recommended. Truly a debut novel to be proud of.
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