Swan Place

Swan Place
-by Augusta Trobaugh

304 pages (2004) Plume Publishing, paperback
ISBN 978-0452284142

MY RATING: 3.5/5

warm and delicate like a southern breeze

Trobaugh returns to her southern roots with Swan Place, a coming-of-age tale of familial hardships and triumphs, that unfolds in a sleepy little town in Georgia. Despite the cloud of sad events, Swan Place allows glimmers of hope and contentment to break through, at the characters develop and grow.

At the heart of the story is Dove, a sensitive 14-year-old who loves her mother dearly, and has a sense of responsibility beyond her years. Dove, along with two younger siblings, is raised by her fun-loving "honky-tonking" Mamma who works as a hairdresser at home, and her simple kind-hearted husband, a step-father to the children. Despite the struggles to make ends meet in the small town, the family are close-knit and happy, and manage to instil respect and a sense of duty in their young daughter.

The story unravels with wistful delicacy, as Dove must overcome seemingly insurmountable struggles in the formative years of her childhood — the heartbreak of watching her once vibrant mother wither away with a terminal illness; assuming the household duties and the role of 'mother' to her two younger siblings; and the remarriage of her step-father to Crystal, an inexperienced 17-year-old and former bar dancer, a child herself in many ways.

After yet another family tragedy, Crystal, Dove and the two babies are left to fend for themselves. Ridiculed at school, and fearful of losing her dear siblings, Dove comes to discover that writing offers solace, as she pens stories and experiences in her journals and notebooks.

When Doves dead-beat biological father returns, threatening to break apart the little family, the girls’ only choice is to go into hiding. They enlist the help of Dove’s Bible-thumping Aunt Bett and an interesting array of newfound friends, to assist in their escape. The girls ultimately find themselves in the keep of the gruff but loveable “Buzzard” – the housekeeper of an affluent estate, hidden away on the outskirts of town, known as Swan Place. Buzzard and her fellow devout black women’s Christian group keep the girls safe and help them to bear up under trials.

A common thread throughout most of Trobaugh's books, Swan Place attests to the strength of love, familial relationships, and spirituality and how, combined, they can be a formidable foe in opposition to hopelessness, poverty and racism. It is a simple yet touching – and sometimes saccharine – read that will not be easily forgotten.

reviewed for Curled Up With A Good Book

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