By Charis Cotter
Paperback, 317 pages
Rose and Polly are neighbors, opposites in many respects. Polly is energetic, boisterous and fair-haired and her house is loud and full of family. Rose is quiet, ghostly pale and wears dark clothing and her house is mostly empty with the exception of the housekeeper. But when the two girls meet they discover what they have in common – the constant feeling of isolation and the desperate desire for a friend to call their own. While their friendship forms, Polly begins to suspect that Rose might be a ghost; after all, she’s pale, quiet and no one else seems to notice her aside from Polly. When the girls find a tombstone bearing Rose’s exact name, they set out to unravel a dark family secret.
We all know I make grabby hands at any middle-grade that sounds remotely dark and I was tickled pink to find that I’d won The Swallow from Librarything. This book didn’t disappoint!
Set in Canada in the 1960s, Polly and Rose meet after Rose’s parents move to the other side of the two-family home. Rose attends private school, where she’s largely unnoticed by classmates and teachers alike. Her parents are almost never home, working hard for the sock company that her grandfather founded. Rose deals mostly with the housekeeper, Kendrick, who barely speaks to her, leaving Rose feeling (justifiably) isolated and alone, seldom speaking or even eating.
Polly, on the other hand, can’t get a moment alone in her house. She has an older sister and two younger twin brothers, as well as three foster sisters. Her parents seem to have no time for her, as they’re busy working and keeping up with the rest of the family. Polly escapes to a room in the attic, desperate for some time to herself (though her little brothers know just where she’s hiding) when she hears singing coming from the other side of the attic. After constantly wishing for an adventure like she reads about in books, Polly believes that the voice she hears is coming from a ghost.
The girls form an unlikely friendship, after much resistance on Rose’s part. Polly, while obnoxious in her persistence in believing Rose is a ghost, is utterly charming. I enjoyed how each girl’s life delved into how loneliness can manifest and affect us all differently. It added emotional depth to the fantasy plot and a quote I found especially moving comes from Polly, in reference to her mother always being busy with the other children:
“She always thinks I can manage, but sometimes I need her and she just isn’t there.”
There’s a bit of mystery involving Rose’s family history (nice little rhyme there) and an actual ghost in the story as well. The story is told in short little chapters (one or two pages or so) from each girl’s point of view. They often pick up where the other’s narration leaves off and it kept the plot moving forward, while the two perspectives kept me trying to figure out what was actually going on.
The end was somewhat predictable, yet as the story moved towards its close, it began to have a bigger impact on me. The more I thought about everything that had happened, the more moved I was, and this book definitely made me cry. There’s certainly a somewhat uplifting message contained in this ghost story, but I’ll be honest, this book made me depressed. But that’s a good thing! (“Millie, you’re nuts,” I hear you say…and rightly so!) I’m always going on about books that get me going emotionally and I love anything that has such a deep impact on me.
I 100% recommend this story and I’m excited about Cotter’s next release in 2018. If you like your middle-grade with a darker tone, but emotional depth, I think you’ll enjoy The Swallow.