Review: Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood (05/03/16)

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….

Title: Wild Swans
Author: Jessica Spotswood
Publication date: May 3, 2016

I received Wild Swans from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ivy hasn’t seen or heard from her mother since she was a toddler. Raised by her grandfather, Ivy is looking forward to her last summer of high school. Then her mother contacts Ivy’s grandfather. She needs a place to stay for a few weeks and she’s bringing her daughters, half-sisters Ivy never knew she had.

When Erica shows up, Ivy is shocked and hurt to discover that her sisters Isobel (15) and Grace (6) have been told that she’s their aunt, Erica’s younger sister. Not only did Erica abandon her, now she won’t even claim Ivy as her own. Grandad isn’t happy either, but he goes along with it and reluctantly, Ivy agrees.

I have to say, I would not be playing that game. Those kids would have known I was their sister before they even had the chance to leave the room. If Erica didn’t like that that, too bad. She should have gone somewhere else if she wanted her secrets kept. It’s not Ivy’s problem. Not only is it unfair to Ivy, it’s a stupid plan. They live in a small town, the Milbourns (and their legacy) are well-known, and everyone knows that Erica is Ivy’s mother and that she skipped town. To expect that no one would say something is just plain dumb.

But Ivy doesn’t know how to stand up for herself, and she also recognizes that Grandad wants his daughter back in his life, so she pretends to be the girls’ aunt. How well do you think that’s going to work out?

Believe it or not, there’s a character I disliked even more than Erica: Ivy’s friend Alex. He’s the housekeeper’s son and he’s grown up with Ivy, right on the property even. He likes Ivy and when she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, he acts like a baby and stops speaking to her. Understandably, he’s hurt, but apparently he thinks he’s entitled to her just because he wants her, which makes him one to stay away from.

I’m glad her attentions are elsewhere as she meets her first real boyfriend Connor. He’s one of her grandfather’s students, a couple of years older than Ivy. I was afraid this was going to turn into a triangle with Alex, but Ivy shuts him down pretty quickly and effectively. Ivy and Connor’s relationship is important, but it’s more in the background than some of the other stories. I like Connor a lot but I’m okay with their romance not being the main focus of the book. This book is more about family relationships, and about Ivy learning to stand up for herself.

She’s been under a lot of pressure her entire life to develop some sort of talent. All the Milbourn women had one (Erica’s is singing), but despite numerous lessons and activities over the years, Ivy hasn’t been able to find hers. She doesn’t think she has one, but Grandad keeps pushing her. It’s not fair to do that to Ivy, but I do like that flaw in Grandad. It makes him more human, not just the perfect man who selflessly raised his granddaughter. It also gives some insight in to Erica’s upbringing and may point to the reasons for some of things she has done and continues to do. Obviously, abandoning your child isn’t a good thing, but it can be argued that Ivy had a better, more stable childhood than Isobel. The early years, before she met Grace’s father (who is still in the picture and considers Isobel his own) were almost certainly rough.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is how diverse this book is. Alex is Mexican-American and Connor is biracial. Ivy’s two best friends are Abby and Claire. I felt like they were being set up for books of their own because they both have interesting and well-developed backstories. Abby has a young transgender sibling and her family is struggling to deal with that. Her dad doesn’t want his son to wear dresses and even Abby has trouble referring to Eli as Ella. She also has PLANS for her future, including marrying her high school boyfriend. Claire is bisexual and proudly feminist. They, along with Isobel, who undoubtedly has issues of her own after being raised by Erica and then finding out she has a sister so close in age, would all make good main characters in their own books. (Isobel also has a crush on Alex. Run, Isobel!)

4 stars
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Jenna