Book Review: Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood
The summer before Ivy’s senior year is going to be golden-all bonfires, barbeques, and spending time with her best friends. For once, she will just get to be. No summer classes, none of Granddad’s intense expectations to live up to the family name. For generations, the Milbourn women have lead extraordinary lives-and died young and tragically. Granddad calls it a legacy, but Ivy considers it a curse. Why else would her mother have run off and abandoned her as a child?
But when her mother unexpectedly returns home with two young daughters in tow, all of the stories Ivy wove to protect her heart start to unravel. The very people she once trusted now speak in lies. And all of Ivy’s ambition and determination cannot defend her against the secrets of the Milbourn past…
Confession: I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump. I started and then quit 4 books before settling on this one. My life is kind of bonkers right now, and my TBR pile stands a good chance of killing someone should it tip over, so when I sit down to read, I want it to be engrossing. I don’t like writing negative reviews, or meh reviews, here on TLT. I get to choose what I review. So why waste my time on things that feel like I’m slogging through them? All of this is to say that WILD SWANS absolutely snapped me out of my slump. Big time.
“Granddad says all the Milbourn women are extraordinary.
Amelia, the Shakespeare professor up at the college, says cursed.
Judy, the bookseller down at the Book Addict, says crazy.
Here in Cecil, girls are still expected to be nice. Quiet. All sugar. Maybe a little spice.
But not us. We Milbourn women are a complicated lot.”
Those first few lines roped me right in.
Ivy is 17 and looking forward to (for once) a low-key summer. Those plans come crashing to a halt when her estranged mother appears. Ivy lives with her grandfather (called Granddad or the Professor) and has since her mom bailed on her as a toddler. Erica, Ivy’s mom, has had NOTHING to do with her since then. Granddad is letting Erica and her two girls move in with them for a bit while she tries to get back on her feet. Ivy’s curious about her two half-sisters, Grace and Isobel, but not looking forward to seeing Erica. It’s immediately clear that Erica is a MESS. She’s cruel, selfish, oblivious, and, worst of all, has been lying to her girls saying that Ivy is their aunt, not their big sister. Nice. Of course, Cecil is a tiny town, so it doesn’t take long for gossip or truth to circulate.
Ivy feels she’s “utterly ordinary.” She comes from a long line of woman who excelled in the arts—and who also died young and tragically. Granddad is always pushing for her to take more classes, submit her poetry, always do more or be better. The long history of heavy pressures—of success but at what cost, of mental illness, of accidental or intentional death—is rarely discussed. Granddad certainly doesn’t see how the burden of the family legacy and his own pressures could be causing Ivy harm.
There is a lot I love about this book, but the things I love best are Ivy’s friendships. She has three best friends–Claire, Abby, and Alex. Mexican American Alex and his mother live in Ivy’s granddad’s carriage house. They’re basically family. Tension arises when Alex begins to have feelings for Ivy that go beyond the realm of their brother-sister relationship. Ivy isn’t feeling it–or maybe she is, but she won’t let herself feel it because she’s too afraid of what it might do to their friendship. Alex is hurt by her rejection, and that hurt multiples when Ivy begins to date biracial Connor, a poetry protege of her granddad. Ivy’s friend Claire is GREAT. She’s my new book best friend. She’s outspoken and brilliant and unabashedly a feminist. She nudges Abby and Ivy toward conversations on sex, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, birth control, feminism, agency, loyalty, and double standards. She has no problem calling people on their garbage. She supports other girls—she and Ivy have a pact not to talk trash about other girls. The girls are GREAT. Ivy feels annoyed at the expectation that she be “nice.” Claire, who is bi, makes sure no one defaults to heteronormative comments. And both girls speak up when Abby has trouble accepting that her 6-year-old sister Ella (formerly Eli) is transgender. All of the other stuff–the disastrous days with Erica, the new sibling issues, the boy drama–make this book extremely interesting and well-done, but it’s the friendship that I’m here for. Give me more of this, please, YA novels. Girls TOTALLY sticking up for each other, looking out for each other, having frank conversations about huge issues. MORE. PLEASE.
This well-written book full of strong characters and complicated relationship will fly off the shelves. It will appeal to readers who like family drama, romances, great friendships, and stories about the pressures of being a teenager. Totally on my top books of the year list.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publication date: 05/03/2016
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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