Reading outside of your comfort zone is really a crap shoot. You might find a glorious book that makes you wonder, "Why did I think I disliked this genre? Why haven't I tried this author before?" or you might end up with more of the same old same old color-by-numbers stuff (which is only fun when it's your Guilty Pleasure Genre. Mine is mysteries). But when you do find that rare, glorious book that makes you stop and gasp, it's lovely.
Wild Swans is such a book.
I've not read anything by Jessica Spotswood before, although we have her books at the library. I like the covers! I just never felt a pull to read them. Maybe it's because I'm not really into teen supernatural books, but when I saw that her newest title was contemporary, I requested an ARC.
The story wasn't mind-blowingly different, and the romance was a little romance-y for my tastes (please keep in mind, I am very, very, very picky about the romance in my books so I am sure that like 99% of people will love the romance here), but the execution and main character completely sold me on Wild Swans.
Ivy is a Milbourn girl, and people in the small town of Cecil say that the Milbourn women are cursed. Cursed with genius and cursed to die a tragic death. Ivy would rather not die a tragic death, thank you very much, and no matter how many different activities her Granddad makes her try--dance, painting, writing, piano--she doesn't seem to have any particular genius. She's captain of the swim team, and feels most comfortable in the water, even though that's how her grandmother died: drowning. She's lived with Granddad ever since her mother, Erica, abandoned her as a child. Ivy's always wondered what it would be like to have a mom, and she's about to find out.
Erica Milbourn is coming back to Cecil because she has no place to stay in the wake in her divorce. And surprise! She's bringing Ivy's half-sisters. Ivy's wish to have a normal summer before senior year goes down the tubes. Figuring out her relationship with Alex, her best friend and their housekeeper's son, gets a lot more complicated when Granddad's star pupil in his poetry class at the local college shows up at the house to do some summer work.
Ivy is determined to hate this guy who just gets her great-grandmother Dorothea's poetry. Except, Connor isn't the loser hipster she thought he'd be. He's, well, he's hot. And smart. And he doesn't think she has to be anything bigger or greater than who she already is. Can we clone him?
When Erica arrives, teenage daughter Isobel and six-year-old Gracie in tow, it's every bit the disaster that Ivy feared. Erica hasn't told her younger daughters about Ivy, and introduces her as "Aunt Ivy." This, as you can imagine, does not go over well, nor does it end well. Imagine: your mom abandoned you as a baby and now, with two more daughters, doesn't even want to acknowledge your existence. Ivy's a stronger person than me, because she doesn't completely break down. Ivy's relationship with Connor gets more intense as her mother's behavior threatens to tear everyone apart.
What I liked most about Wild Swans was how the author frankly and rationally discussed things like sexual agency, choice, diversity, unhealthy relationships, and fat shaming.
As a swimmer, Ivy naturally has a non-conforming body type when it comes to your standard bookish heroine (I don't mean just YA--I mean all books). She's tall and broad-shouldered--torpedo-shaped so she can shoot through the water with minimum drag. She's not voluptuous or delicate, she's ... Ivy. And she's okay with that. So when her mom, Erica (who it's later revealed had/has an eating disorder), constantly fat-shames Isobel, Ivy won't stand for it. "Fury rises in me. She's beautiful the way she is. There's more to being pretty--or healthy--than being skinny." And when Erica chides Iz for eating cookies, Ivy says, "I cannot believe Erica just said that. Isobel's curvey, not all angles like Erica and Gracie. But she's not fat. Even if she were fat, who cares? It still wouldn't be okay to police what she eats and shame her in front of everyone."
Hi, Ivy Milbourn, you're my new best friend.
And while Alex, her best friend, wants to be something more than "just friends," Ivy doesn't. She doesn't love him like that, and he cannot--or will not--process that. I was so proud of Ivy for being firm and standing her ground. It's very clear that she loves Connor as a boyfriend and Alex as a brother. Alex goes a little My Best Friend's Wedding on Ivy, thinking that the more he pouts, the more chances he'll have to "win her heart" or some such crap. I found Alex to be really immature and almost stalkerish in his pursuit of Ivy. She doesn't belong to you, Alex. Ivy is not a girl to possess, and you getting all upset that she doesn't love you back will not change that.
This is a personal bête noire of mine: the guy who thinks that just because you are friends, or even that you talk to him, smile at him, or tolerate his presence, then he is somehow entitled to your affection. I've been accused of being a "tease" numerous times because I talk to guys as if they are other human beings with whom I would like to converse. My talking does not equal my wanting to date you, or--in one memorable instance--marry you.
I want to hug Ivy and I want to high-five Jessica Spotswood for writing this book. Highly recommended.
I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss. All quotes are taken from the ARC and are subject to change.