Click here to read reviewer Beverly Wong-Kleinjan's take on Swan Place.
Having read Sophie and the Rising Sun, I picked up Augusta Trobaugh’s Swan Place with anticipation and was not disappointed. Swan Place is the story of one year in the life of Dove, a young teenager living in the Deep South. The story begins with the death of her mother, and ends a year later on Easter. While her tale in some ways can be looked at as a sad one, with a life of poverty and being orphaned with two very young siblings, she and her family manage to survive with the love and help from friends and family.
Early in the story, Dove vows never to love again because she feels that when you love someone so much, you can only get hurt. She loses her mother to cancer, then loses her stepfather. With the help of his widowed child bride, who at the time is not even eighteen years old, the four of them go to live with a woman named Buzzard, a relative of their Aunt Bett's neighbor Aunt Mee.
The action in this novel takes place in the Deep South, and in the beginning it is difficult to tell whether Dove and her family are black or white. But it soon is revealed that Auntie Mee is black, and that Dove and her family, who are white, always treat blacks with respect, oblivious to color barriers or lines. Auntie Mee comments one time when she is invited to take coffee with Dove and her stepmother, Crystal, that she has never sat in a white woman's kitchen before. She feels uncomfortable, but to Dove and Crystal Auntie Mee is a person just like themselves. They do not differentiate between a person’s skin color, treating everyone equally. They welcome Auntie Mee into their home as they would anyone else.
While the book itself is not about color differences, Swan Place does emphasize friendships that cross color lines in a time when these lines were not crossed. This is apparent in the relationship between Dove and her friend Savannah, and is one of the highlights of this story for this reader. It is a friendship that is frowned upon by those who feel that people should stay where they belong - that is, with their “own people”. Savannah understands completely about these unwritten rules, but Dove ignores what society dictates and considers the orphaned black girl her best friend.The book is more a comfort read than a story of tension and fast-paced action. It’s full of observations, and the reader will see things as they happen through Dove's eyes, the story being told in the first person. One interesting note is Dove's passion to write. It is Dove’s stories that the reader is essentially reading, as she writes them down in her notebooks. Swan Place is one year in her life when things changed for the worse, when one thing after another led to more changes, until at the very end, she isn't sure she can take anymore. She finds comfort in her journal writing, something she learns from her favorite teacher.
Dove finds delight in many things in her life, such as the friendship she shares with Savannah, or the meetings of the Sister of the Circle of Jesus that congregate at Buzzard's place. Dove even takes notice of the story of the Swans, the owners of the property that Buzzard oversees, and writes about them in her notebooks. She also writes stories of her childhood, or makes up stories about people that she already knows. It is at Swans Place that Dove and her little family find some solace and peace, while Crystal decides what they need to do to get back on their feet and move on with their lives. And, it is at Swans Place that Dove sees for the first time a different type of lifestyle, that of the rich, and hears tales about Mr. and Mrs. Swan, who once lived on this estate that is now run by Buzzard, who is their maid.
Despite the poverty and the sadness around them, it is rare that Dove complains about being poor or about the loss of her parents. She keeps going, knowing that this is expected of her. She doesn't laugh much, but she also doesn't despair. It is her duty to keep the family together.
zAnyone who loves stories that take place in the Deep South will enjoy Swan Place.
If a reader learns anything from this book, it is the lesson that the love of family and friends will always help you get by. No matter what life brings you, no matter how terrible things can get, if you have the love of family and friends, you will never find your life lacking, nor will you feel poor or alone. Dove’s story is an inspiration and will warm any reader’s heart.