Geese Are Never Swans

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Geese Are Never Swans Book Poster Image
Gritty take on teen swimmer fueled by grief and anger.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Information on competitive swimming, including training regimens, qualifying for the Olympics, pressure of competition. A look at grief, how it is different for everyone. Story explores effects of trauma, anxiety, depression, other mental health issues. Includes mental health resources for athletes at the end.

Positive Messages

Learn to be patient and work through your problems. Asking for help and showing your emotions are signs of strength, not weakness. Don't assume you know what other people are going through. Be honest with people in your life. Keep listening to other people and keep trying to be a better person. Don't give up on yourself.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Gus is in emotional pain for most of the book, making him an angry, arrogant teen with a chip on his shoulder. He matures, learns how to deal with his emotional issues and trauma. Coach Marks is a caring, supportive presence in Gus' life. Lainey is sweet to Gus and gives him love and support. In terms of representation, all the characters are presented as White and straight.


Gus' brother dies by suicide before the books starts, but Gus describes what he looked like right after he died by hanging. Gus' dad died in a car accident, which isn't graphically described. Gus' family is emotionally abusive. A character has some scars from cutting years ago. Two teen boys get into a brief fistfight. Description of injured, bloody feet from overtraining.


Characters make a few references to having had or wanting to have sex. A couple make out at a party. A girl hits on a guy. Some discussion of crushes.


Frequent and intense strong language: "s--t" and variations, "f--k" and variations, "motherf----r," "bulls--t," "piss," "ass," "goddamn," "crap," "d--k," "a--hole," "hell," "damn," "bitch," "c--t," "bastard," "douche," "butt," and "p---y." "Jesus," "God," and "Christ" used as exclamations.


A few brands mentioned, mostly for scene setting: Escalade, Volvo, Subaru, Lexus, Ford Explorer, Peet's Coffee, Jack in the Box, FaceTime, and Snapchat.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teen sneaks alcohol at a wake. Gus' sister has a drug addiction. As a kid, Gus watched his sister and her friends drink and smoke pot. Gus and other teens get drunk at a party. Gus drives drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Geese Are Never Swans, created by Kobe Bryant and written by Eva Clark, is an emotional coming-of-age story about a teen boy dealing with his brother's suicide. After Gus' brother Danny hangs himself, Gus puts all of his energy into swimming and hopefully surpassing Danny's achievements. Gus is full of rage, ignoring all the signs of grief, anxiety, and depression, and alienates everyone in his life. In addition to lashing out at everyone, he makes many poor decisions, including breaking into swimming pools, forging signatures, and driving drunk. Swimming ends up being both the place he hides from his problems and his way of working through them. The story is told from Gus' point of view, and he swears constantly, including lots of variations on "f--k" and "s--t." There are a few scenes of teens drinking and a little violence, including a fistfight that's mostly shoving. The story offers good discussion topics on trauma, grief, and the pressure to achieve, especially in sports. A few mental health resources for athletes are provided at the end of the book. The book is from Granity Studios, a multimedia company focused on young athletes, founded by the late NBA superstar Kobe Bryant.


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What's the story?

In GEESE ARE NEVER SWANS, the pressure of competition, grief, and trauma collide for teen swimmer Gus, who's reeling after the suicide of his brother. Danny was a nationally ranked swimmer on a path to qualifying for the Olympics. He was the proverbial golden boy and was loved by everyone who knew him, leaving Gus to struggle to find a place in Danny's shadow. Even though Gus is every bit as talented and driven as Danny, his mom prevented him from training at Danny's level, putting all her money and attention into her older son. After Danny kills himself, Gus decides to step into the spotlight and hopefully surpass his brother's achievements. He's starting late for the elite level of training he wants to do and pushes hard to make up for lost time. His rage and grief drive him to work harder, but he pushes far past the line of hard work and into compulsion. He doesn’t listen to anyone who tries to help him, leaving him more isolated and emotionally adrift than ever. As tough as qualifying for the Olympics is, Gus' true challenge is figuring out a way to pull himself back from the brink of emotional and physical self-destruction.

Is it any good?

This heartfelt look at the price of elite competition and the lingering effects of grief can be a tough read at times. Geese Are Never Swans is told from the point of view of Gus, who's arrogant and full of rage, lashing out at everyone in his life, which makes for a frustrating narrative. Even though we see why Gus acts the way he does, it's hard to sympathize with a main character who refuses to listen to anyone and is a total jerk for most of the book. The story shows the toll that grief and emotional abandonment can take on a young person. It also highlights the amount of work and focus it takes to be an elite athlete, while emphasizing that success shouldn't come at the expense of your mental and physical well-being. These are important messages many young athletes need to hear.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about teen suicide and mental health. In Geese Are Never Swans, both Gus and his brother have emotional problems that even the people closest to them don't know about. Why might some people try to cope with hard stuff alone? Do you know about help available to those considering suicide, or to family and friends who have lost a loved one to suicide?

  • Why do you think unhealthy family dynamics are a popular theme for YA novels? Do you think authors like the drama aspect, or do you think these storylines help teens identify problems in their own families?

  • Competition and drive in sports, academics, and other activities can be a positive, inspiring thing. But when can it cross the line and become problematic?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sports tales and grief stories

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