October 05


Swing Sideways by Nanci Turner Steveson – Review by Dana Murphy

swing-sidewaysIf I am being honest, I only grabbed the book from the pile on my nightstand because it looked like an easy read. We were leaving for a three-hour drive to our lake house, and I wanted a break from all the professional reading I had been doing. This book with the skipping girls and raspberries on the cover seemed breezy enough.


So I was as surprised as you when I found myself sitting in my backyard a week later with tears streaming down my cheeks. I closed the book and leaned my head back on the patio chair, thinking about friendship and parenthood and my dad and regret and how sometimes books surprise us.


Swing Sideways by Nanci Turner Steveson is a story about a girl named Annabel who feels stifled by her hovering mother and her overscheduled life. So stifled, in fact, that she has stopped eating. Annabel’s therapist recommends a “summer of freedom’’ and this is when Annabel meets California, a young girl staying at her grandfather’s farm for the summer. California is everything Annabel is not – carefree, courageous, and a bit rebellious. California is on a mission to bring her estranged mother back home to the farm and to reunite her mother and grandfather. The two girls develop an unlikely friendship as they scheme to bring California’s back home. Little does Annabel know that California is hiding a deep secret of her own.


My favorite thing about this story was Annabel and California’s unlikely friendship. The two girls are so different, yet somehow they make so much sense together. I fell in love with them immediately, and you will, too.


No, my favorite thing about this story was Annabel’s mother, Vicki. She is hovering and suffocating (and a bit neurotic if you ask me), but I get her as a mother. Vicki made me think about how sometimes we do more harm than good when we try to protect the ones we love.


Wait, no, my favorite thing about this story was California’s attempts to lure her mother back home. She reminded me so much of Raymie from Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale… and of myself. If you have ever longed for a parent, you will understand California.


Actually, my favorite thing about this book was the underlying message about regret and missed chances. “Regret is a terrible thing,” California’s mother reminds us. Yes, yes, it certainly is.


I was just looking for an easy read to pass the time. Instead, I found a story that made my heart swing sideways.


Dana Murphy is an instructional coach in Woodridge, IL.   She is a lifetime member of the Nerdy Book Club and has already inducted her daughters as well. This isn’t the first time she misjudged a book by its cover.  Dana is co-author of the Two Writing Teachers blog and a contributing writer at Choice Literacy. She tweets at @DanaMurphy143.