By Jessica Spotswood
Available now from Sourcebooks Fire
Jessica Spotswood leaves fantasy and historical fiction behind for contemporary, but keeps the themes of sisterhood and family legacies. WILD SWANS is unlike Spotswood's debut trilogy the Cahill Witch Chronicles in genre, but I think her fans will be satisfied if they make the trip to contemporary with her.
Ivy Milbourn comes from a long line of talented, troubled women, most of whom died tragically. She is, however, perfectly ordinary. She pushes herself hard, and her grandfather pushes her harder, but she's generally good at most things but never great. But those expectations are only one of her burdens. Her mother abandoned her when she was two, and she's always wondered if there was something wrong with her that drove her mother away. She gets her chance, fifteen years later, when her mother is forced to move back into her father's house.
With her two other daughters.
Spotswood's writing beautifully expresses Ivy's emotional turmoil as she juggles her family issues, boy problems, and her expectations for herself. Her intended summer of fun imploded, but she finds far more to enjoy than she first expected. I thoroughly enjoyed Ivy. She's refreshingly mature (although she still has the naivety of a sheltered teen), and I thought she struck a really good balance with how she shook things up.
WILD SWANS is painfully earnest at times. One of her best friends has a younger sibling who might grow up to be transgender, and for now prefers to identify as a girl instead of a boy. The other is bisexual, the pioneer of the town's Gay-Straight Alliance, and very vigilant about women's sexual freedom. These are timely issues that helped flesh out the setting and the secondary characters, but some of the longer scenes felt like Ivy's story stopping for a Very Special Episode. (At the same thing, I think Spotswood's characters were often saying things that needed to be said.)
For those looking for a summery, feminist bildungsroman, look no farther than WILD SWANS. It has poetry, hot tattooed guys, and a mother who is a major piece of work (but sometimes makes a few good points). It's a lovely book, the sort that isn't huge on event but sucks you in anyway because of the characters.