The Swallows

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 14 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

The Swallows was not what I expected all. This books make me shudder the thought of ever having children. It was basically a bunch of rich spoiled teens that treat each other horribly and take advantage of super messed up teachers at their school. I was not excited by the topic when I got more in to the book but I wanted to find out what happened because I have been a fan of Liza Lutz for a long time. However, I enjoyed her funny books, the Spellman Files. This one is not funny and really it was just a sad story about rich privileged kids that has been written so many times.
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I have loved Lisa Lutz since the very first Spellman Files book and this newest novel is one of the best mystery/suspense/thriller books I have read this year. Well plotted and well written, this is definitely a recommended read.
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I am sorry to say that I Judy could not get interested in this book.  I gave it til 25% and just put it down.
I received ARC from Netgalley in return for a fair review.
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The elevator pitch: 

A #Me Too version of Prep


Give me a novel set in a preppy, isolated, wood-paneled, offbeat school, and I'm game. The Swallows fits in in the long tradition of quirky, preppy voices in American storytelling, from Salinger to Sittenfeld to Riverdale to Vampire Weekend songs. Most of them use the setting to encapsulate stories that can be cynical and ironic. The Swallows goes one step further, hiding the crude within the quirky.
Blending the two elements is a tightrope act in which the Swallows mostly succeed.
The setting in the Swallow is undoubtedly charming. A typical New England prep school. The jolt of the transition from the Keats Hall to entitled boys who score blowjobs in a secret chatroom called the Darkroom is a considerable speedbump. But the environment serves its purpose; it's the sugarcoating that lets the bitter pill go down smoother.
The only gripe I have that there was no sex-positive message; it was quite puritan in focusing on the one-sided aspect of blowjobs. I found it disappointing that the girls in this story weren't able to ask for what they wanted sexually. I wished to see a girl exploring her sexuality in this context. The girls at Stonebridge don't seem to have their desires.
I loved most of the characters, even if some of the teachers seemed redundant, apart from our sympathetic protagonist Ms. Witt. I had some difficulty distinguishing between some of the male ones. The students were engaging, better drawn.
The Swallows is black and white, and the ending can leave you with a bitter taste. But it is also very distinctive, immediately iconic, and reads like a dream.

The Gist: 

After some troubles at her old school, Alex Witt starts teaching at Stonebridge Academy, hoping things will be better here. But as soon as she reads the first essays of her students, Ms. Witt realizes there is trouble brewing at Stonebridge. Soon, she learns from Gemma Russo, a kickass loner pretending to be an insider, that the boys at the school have an internet site called the Darkroom, where they discuss the girls they have sex in every sketchy detail.
Gemma is on the warpath; nothing can deter her; something drastic must be done about it.
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Quick, timely read. This book takes a hard look at what happens when we pander to elite males and sweep under the rug the concerns of our young women; when we ignore what is the beginning of the practices that eventually lead to women identifying with the #metoo movement. It is a cautionary tale that is both timely and relevant.
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I mean..... It was an interesting and fairly important topic to tackle, but a whole book about sexual assault and the culture of boarding schools was difficult to read. I didn't hate it, but wouldn't recommend it.
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A battle between the female and male students at a prep school in New England makes up the plot of "The Swallows" by Lisa Lutz. The new teacher on campus, Ms. Witt, has a past she doesn't talk about. And even the students catch wind that something at her last teaching job went wrong and she was forced to leave that school. 

The popular kids, called "The Ten," rule the school. When the female students start to learn about a dark secret amongst the male members of The Ten, they vow revenge.

The book is a bit of a dark comedy with some literary fiction, feminism, and suspense thrown in the mix. It's highly entertaining.  And while I didn't love Lutz's last novel, "The Passenger," I thoroughly enjoyed "The Swallows." Though it seemed to drag on at some parts, I recommend it.
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This was the first book I've read by this author & I regret waiting so long to pick up one of her books. The subject matter is timely given the recent #MeToo movement. It was refreshing to read about yound ladies standing up for themselves & taking action. I think this book would lead to an interesting book club discussion so I'm considering it as an option for my club's next poll to determine which books we'll read in 2020.
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Every time I thought the author couldn't possibly go there in this novel- she did. This is the wryest, funniest, most disturbing boarding school novel I've read in a long while. There's something for everyone- the miserable back stories, the anger of women scorned/used/abused, plus adolescent and adult angst. Nobody escapes fully unscathed in this biting *(and disturbingly hilarious?) send-up of current rape culture. I'm not sure how one class assignment can blow open a long-standing dark secret, but ok. If you can suspend disbelief, this is a pretty hilarious and very very dark novel.

Bonus points for depicting an English lit teacher who is told to teach creative writing and basically just... does nothing for the rest of the year? Hmm.

4 complicated but quick reading stars.
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It took me forever to read The Swallows. I was first drawn to the story by the boarding school setting, but the cacophony of voices telling the story in first person was a challenge. And although the story was darkly humorous, it was rather unpleasant. Relevant to the #MeToo conversation, the boys take and share revealing pictures of girls and rate sexual encounters. The battle eventually turns into a war where no one is left unscathed.

FIRST LINE: "Some teachers have a calling. I'm not one of them."

THE STORY: Alex Witt reluctantly takes a job teaching creative writing at an elite Vermont boarding school where her parent's friendship with the Headmaster means her recent past will be overlooked. 

It starts with a simple writing prompt from Alex Witt in her effort to get to know the students. When the answers raise disturbing questions, Ms. Witt suspects there's more going on at the school than the faculty wants to see.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I am always attracted to a story that takes place in a boarding school, but apparently I wasn't the only reader who found the book slow going (It took me over two months to finish.) Filled with anonymous notes and secret meetings, Lutz pays homeage to spy novels with a reference to Magnus Pym, a double agent in a book by John le Carré. The actual writing is sharp and funny. And, by the way, swallow has many meanings. One is "a female agent employed to seduce people for intelligence purposes." You can guess at the others.

I enjoyed her earlier book, The Passenger, a thriller, but I'm not familiar with the Spellman series.

BOTTOM LINE: Some reviewers loved this book, some reviewers did not finish reading. The amount of frank sexual description may be too much for some readers.

Disclaimer: A copy of The Swallows was provided to me by Ballantine Books/Net Galley for an honest review.

Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher:  Ballantine Books (August 13, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1984818236
ISBN-13: 978-1984818232

Lisa Lutz is the New York Times bestselling author of the six books in the Spellman series, Heads You Lose (with David Hayward), and How To Start A Fire. Her latest offering is the thriller The Passenger (March, 2016 from S&S).

Lutz has won the Alex award and has been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Although she attended UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, the University of Leeds in England, and San Francisco State University, she still does not have a bachelor's degree. Lutz spent most of the 1990s hopping through a string of low-paying odd jobs while writing and rewriting the screenplay Plan B, a mob comedy. After the film was made in 2000, she vowed she would never write another screenplay. She lives in the Hudson Valley, New York. .(from Amazon)
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Wow! The Swallows was not what I was expecting, but in the very best way. It took everything I thought I was going to read about and turned it on its head! This is a timely, provocative, and outstanding novel. The Swallows is one of the best books I've read in 2019. Very highly recommended.
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What a strange and interesting story. Overall, this book was enjoyable. Though there were a lot of characters and POVs, I was able to keep them all straight and felt they had distinct voices. I loved the private school setting, and the insight into the corruption that inevitable happens when teenagers and money are intertwined. I loved the start of the book with Alex's written assignment, and how we are read the various answers and slowly discover who said what as the story progresses. At times, the story could be a little all over the places and some things were a little cliche, but overall the story was enjoyable.
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I was already a fan of Lutz, but I think this is by far her best work. One of my favorite reads this year! I love a good boarding school story, and this one, with its 'overthrow the patriarchy' vibes, is not to be missed. At a school where  sexual exploitation has become commonplace, one teacher helps a handful of girls shift the dynamic and take back their power. A must-read, especially in today's political climate.
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Having read and enjoyed a book by Lisa Lutz before I was really expecting to really enjoy The Swallows however that really didn’t turn out to be the case. Just picking this one up I began thinking it has a bit of an identity problem as it felt like a cross between an adult novel and a young adult read.

The main character in The Swallows is actually an adult, Alexandra Witt, who has found herself in the position of needing a new teaching job. This brings Ms. Witt to Stonebridge Academy where after some odd negotiations she ends up with a job teaching creative writing and we as  readers get our first glimpse into Stonebridge not exactly being a top ranked academy.

Now as our new teacher sulks into her new position she was not expecting she tosses a random writing prompt at her new class. Well, after being told that the assignment could/would be anonymous some of the students gave answers which lead their new teacher to being concerned with what goes one behind these walls.

Now, as I mentioned I struggled with not calling this one young adult with it being set in a school and then having a good portion of the point of view being handed to the students. It also had such a variety of characters in this story it never really became one I got overly connected to them either and would even mix the POV up even going back to adult. When finished this one ended up with an overall meh feeling somewhat burying it’s better parts.

I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.
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The Swallows is a perfect book for the #metoo era.  Using an isolated boarding school as a back-drop, the author propels the reader forward using dark humor to take the edge off of a deeply disturbing tale of sexual abuse and exploitation of female students by male classmates in a secret society, mirroring inappropriate student-teacher relationships which are equally disturbing.  The book emotionally captures the thrill of empowerment, as well as its costs, which are particularly high in a world where those in charge refuse to see what is really going on.  Highly recommended.

Thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.
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***Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review***

Lisa Lutz has my undying respect. Her Spellman series introduced the world to the most interesting, quirky characters that I never wanted to let go of. Her other novels featured some witty, sarcastic, quirky characters as well. The Swallows does not disappoint in the regard. The story is interesting and a little weird, which Lutz does well.
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I absolutely love books that have a boarding school as the setting so this one caught my eye right away. I anxiously awaited approval and remembered that I have read several of her other books which I really enjoyed. The new teacher at this not so great boarding school assigns her creative writing students a list of what she thinks to be innocent questions. The answers that she gets back are shocking. It delves into who these students really are and what is at the heart of the school. The girls are showing their true power and coming into themselves. It has an amazing message and while at times can make some people uncomfortable I think that everyone should read this. Its right for the times we are in now.
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I have been a huge fan of Lisa Lutz since the Spellmans, but I've had hit or miss experiences with her standalone novels. I thought this story was excellent, well-paced and well-crafted, and I thought that the alternating narrators gave it an interesting texture that helped move the plot along. This was not an easy book to read, especially for someone who was once a teenage girl and works with lots of young adult women who have just moved past this time in their lives. A really appropriate boarding school novel for the #metoo era, with enough mystery and character development to keep it from feeling didactic.
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Thank you Netgalley and Publishers for granting me early access to "The Shallows".

I'm currently in the middle of a major move, and will definitely come back at a later time and write out a full review and rating. 

Thank you so much!
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The writing was great, and the characters were snarky perfection. The book takes on some deep issues with a very light tone.
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