Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood


Synopsis: 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….

If you loved The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, then Jessica Spotswood’s Wild Swans just might be the next book you’ll fall in love with. Dripping with elements of magical realism, dunked into a truly contemporary setting, Wild Swans has been the most unexpectedly charming contemporary novel I’ve read this year.

The Milbourn Women have a legacy not unlike the Roux family in Leslye Walton’s stunning YA debut. But unlike Ava and her family, Ivy doesn’t have the pressure (or the push) that comes from true magic interfering with her life. Instead, she’s facing challenges everyone has faced at some point – how to discover what she wants to do with her life, whom she should date, where she should set her sights, and whose opinions she should concern herself with. This is a realistic contemporary novel, but what sets it apart are the more mystical elements peppered throughout the storytelling. Ivy’s family is known for producing extraordinary women – women who create art, go on exciting adventures, and almost inevitably end their lives early in tragic and spectacular ways. Her family legacy is like something out of a fairytale.

I loved that Jessica laced Magical Realism tropes into her plot yet refrained from actually writing a story that is magical realism. There isn’t any actual magic in this book. Somehow, as strange as this may sound, that’s kind of what made this book magical to me. It has all the elements you’d expect from a book littered with the mystical, but then you read it and it’s a sweet summer contemporary about a teen trying to grapple with the return of the mysterious woman who abandoned her when she was a child and the unknowns from her past, present, and future that their meeting face to face for the first time in years brings into focus.

I loved this book. Ivy is a talented and intelligent girl who is unsure of herself and her future, which makes her feel both strong and fragile at the same time. It was so easy to relate to her struggles – how many of us really know what we want to do for the rest of our lives, teenagers or no? It’s extremely difficult to feel the weight of what is expected of you when you still don’t know what you want for yourself.

The bottom line is that this book is full of stunning prose from Jessica Spotswood and a touching storyline that will surely tug at even the toughest heartstrings. Wild Swans is a great choice for anyone looking for a sweet summer contemporary, anyone who craves lyrical prose and whimsical imagery, or simply anyone who has ever been forced to confront difficult identity issues. Basically, there’s a little something for everyone here. I highly recommend it.

Rating: 5/5 stars 

TALK TO ME: Did you read Wild Swans? What did you think? Do you like a dose of Magical Realism in your reads? 

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