Publishing Info: August 13, 2013 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: Received from the publisher for review purposes
Genres: Adult, Mystery/Thriller
Date Completed: August 16, 2019
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Related Posts: The Passenger
A new teacher at a New England prep school ignites a gender war--with deadly consequences--in a provocative novel from the bestselling author of The Passenger and the Spellman Files series.
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 the school's secrets begin to trickle out, a boys-versus-girls skirmish turns into an all-out war, with deeply personal--and potentially fatal--consequences for everyone involved. Lisa Lutz's blistering, timely tale shows us what can happen when silence wins out over decency for too long--and why the scariest threat of all might be the idea that sooner or later, girls will be girls.
I first found Lisa Lutz with her Spellman Files series and absolutely loved the tone, funny family, and easy mysteries. I know she’s written a few different works and not all of them share the same tone, but I think I excepted something much different from THE SWALLOWS. That being said, that’s not the cause for my rating because I’m happy to read different styles from the same authors, but I just didn’t like the way this book was put together and I don’t think that the structure did the topic as much justice as it could have.
The book is presented as a mystery/thriller, but it doesn’t really get too thrilling until the very end of the book (like the last couple chapters) so those few chapters are the reason I’m throwing a half star in there instead of just rating it two stars. The book deals largely with a secret contest and website held by the boys at the school, rating the girls on their sexual performance and having them unwittingly play a part in this school-wide “contest”. It is off-putting and gross, and yes it’s supposed to be, but I hated how the first half of this book just basically kept going over the details and adding more to the concept, leaving the justice and revenge until the end of the book. I sat their feeling incredibly disgusted and bad for all of these girls while they uncovered the secret of the contest and how terrible all of these boys were. It seemed like overkill to keep developing the concept of the contest and describing the message board when we could have spent more time developing the female characters and getting them ready for their moment of empowerment, and it really felt like a lot of time wasted by giving this contest way more attention than it deserved. It wasn’t just a big reveal or anything, the reader knows about it almost the whole time, so I wanted to see more empowerment on the female side much earlier.
There were also a lot of erroneous things in the book that didn’t really make much of a difference. The weird cottage Alex Witt stayed in didn’t really play a big role. There wasn’t really a reason why this was set in 2009 other than to look back on the occasion but there was no flash forward to 2019 or anything, so that was kind of pointless as well. Alex’s romantic involvements with various characters were irrelevant. A side character’s relationship with her mother I guess tied in at the very end and was supposed to “explain” some of her actions, but I think it was entirely unnecessary and threw in random bits of “mystery” to keep the readers wondering. Lisa Lutz is primarily a mystery/thriller writer in various tones and forms, but the beginning wasn’t much of a mystery or a thriller and read more like general fiction. The tone very much switched in the action towards the end to a chilling thriller-type feel with escalating events and some remorseless acts so it was just kind of a jumble of too many things overall.
I mostly just didn’t enjoy reading this book while I was reading it. It came together at the very end but I wished the rest of the book was like the ending. It really didn’t feel cohesive in so many ways and I just really disliked the structure.
Kept Me Hooked On: Empowerment. I liked seeing the female characters take matters into their own hands and fighting back against the injustices throughout the book.
Left Me Wanting More: Plot movement. For a book that’s supposed to be empowering, I felt like way too much time was spent dwelling on the oppressive and bad parts, giving them too much power and attention. I wanted to see the plot move forward much sooner to get us into the more empowering moments and actually seeing these girls and women making their stand.
I’m sure some people will enjoy it but I just was far too annoyed, frustrated, and even disgusted to think about recommending it. This one was not for me and I don’t think I’d recommend it to my friends.