In 1970, Betsy Byars won the Newbery Medal for "Summer of the Swans," a novel rich with the conflicting emotions an adolescent girl feels for herself and her retarded brother. After the boy is lost in the woods, his sister realizes how important they are to each other. In "A Blossom Promise," Byars again uses a near-tragedy to draw characters to one another as they grope for understanding. Her perception of kids' feelings is keen, as is her wit and eye for detail.
This is the final, bittersweet volume in the Blossom Family Quartet, bittersweet only because the cast is so memorably quirky that you hate to say goodby. Those who aren't familiar with the earlier episodes might be teased into reading them after references to Ralphie's jail time and the Green Phantom. Meanwhile, three subplots weave together: Vern and his friend, Michael, plan to float their rickety raft down a rain-swollen river, Junior plans to spend the night in Mad Mary's Cave, and Maggie and her mother ride the rodeo circuit in Arizona.
At first it's hard to tell how any of this relates to the next, but Byars skillfully ropes it all in. Pap's heart attack as he tries to rescue the rafters is the catalyst that kicks the Blossoms' spirit into high gear and shows their love for one another. There are enough cliffhangers and moments of despair that when all ends happily, you want to applaud. There's no sap.