What do you love? What do you hate? What do you want?
It starts with this simple writing prompt from Alex Witt, Stonebridge Academy’s new creative writing teacher. When the students’ answers raise disturbing questions of their own, Ms. Witt knows there’s more going on the school than the faculty wants to see. She soon learns about The Ten–the students at the top of the school’s social hierarchy–as well as their connection to something called The Darkroom.
Ms. Witt can’t remain a passive observer. She finds the few girls who’ve started to question the school’s “boys will be boys” attitude and incites a resistance that quickly becomes a movement. But just as it gains momentum, she also attracts the attention of an unknown enemy who knows a little too much about her–including what brought her to Stonebridge in the first place.
Meanwhile, Gemma, a defiant senior, has been plotting her attack for years, waiting for the right moment. Shy loner Norman hates his role in the Darkroom, but can’t find the courage to fight back until he makes an unlikely alliance. And then there’s Finn Ford, an English teacher with a shady reputation who keeps one eye on his literary ambitions and one on Ms. Witt.
As many times as I’ve read books that I absolutely love, this one hit a very special, different, powerful note.
First of all, The Swallows is set in 2009, so, pure nostalgia for me. I was but a wee baby college freshman. But holy shit, do these events really resonate. Alex Witt does not want to teach creative writing. At all. Just because her father is a semi-well known author, that doesn’t mean she wants to teach rich kids at a boarding school how to write. But damn, after the shit show that was her last teaching job, she’ll accept it.
Enter Gemma Russo, an absolute badass I both want to be like and to protect from the worst parts of the world. She knows there’s something sketchy and terrible happening at Stonebridge, but she can’t quite place her finger on what. She just knows the guys in her class are overly cocky, and she hates all but two of them.
Alex is definitely who I would’ve been if I’d ended up ever pursuing teaching. She’s very much a laissez-faire type teacher, but she’s not above shutting shit down when she needs to. She notices a lot of her students respond to the “what do you hate” question with one act: blow jobs. Thus, the Blowchart is born:
I’ll say now, nothing is ever explicitly described when it comes to various sexual acts. It’s guys being the absolute shittiest versions of guys, and it’s all accurate. Like, these are all guys I’ve interacted with, or been friends with, or known in some capacity.
The teachers aren’t much better. Finn Ford, the old creative writing teacher, is such a scumbag. Martha Primm is complicit in sweeping terrible things under the rug. Claudine Shepherd is the sexy librarian, with a whole massive closet of skeletons. And Dean Stinson…he’s clueless, but not because he doesn’t care, but because he’s so focused on trying to keep everything afloat.
Gemma and her band of girls are such powerful figures. They all want revenge for being codified into just numbers and statistics on their *ahem* performances. This is the exact book we need right now.
A powerhouse of a book that fits properly into the #MeToo movement, I give The Swallows 5 out of 5 axes. Thank you so much to NetGalley and Ballentine Books for providing a copy in exchange for review.