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The Swallows

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A new teacher at a New England prep school ignites a gender war--with deadly consequences.

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.

399 pages, Hardcover

First published August 13, 2019

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About the author

Lisa Lutz

20 books3,745 followers
Lisa Lutz is the New York Times bestselling author of the six books in the Spellman series, How to Start a Fire, Heads you Lose (with David Hayward), and the children's book, How to Negotiate Everything (illustrated by Jaime Temairik). Her latest book, The Passenger, a psychological thriller, will be published March 2016 by Simon and Schuster. Lutz has won the Alex award and has been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

Although she attended UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, the University of Leeds in England, and San Francisco State University, she still does not have a bachelor's degree. Lisa spent most of the 1990s hopping through a string of low-paying odd jobs while writing and rewriting the screenplay Plan B, a mob comedy. After the film was made in 2000, she vowed she would never write another screenplay. Lisa lives in the Hudson Valley, NY.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,481 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,976 reviews170k followers
August 13, 2019

this book is campy and silly while dealing with some very serious subject matter and all those earnest hand-wringing folks will likely ask if this is what we “need” right now as a society, but today—seduced by the unexpected option—i bought lavender-scented roach spray, and now i will forever associate bug-extermination with vaporized grannies, so there are a lot of things we do not need as a society, but which make unpleasant things just a little bit weirder. and that’s what this book does: it takes predatory teenage boys, sexually exploited teenage girls, and the blind eyes and cover-ups of responsible adults and makes it weirder than an SVU rerun, rompier than a lifetime original movie, less of a soul-crushing depression bomb than a news story. this one is, dare i say?—fun, and i needed some fun right now, even if that fun is sculpted around a rotten core of humiliation and blackmail and revenge.

if it sounds like this book trivializes rape culture and the objectification of women, i’ve explained it poorly. it doesn’t diminish the seriousness of the problem to offer a book with a lighter tone about that problem. you can buy your acrid-chemical-scented bug spray and feel confident that it is addressing your issue. or you can address the issue and also have some humorous images in your head as you do so.

like spraycan grannies.

and this book’s helpful blowchart:

it’s a breathlessly quick read, and the pacing ushers the reader over some of the book’s undeniable potholes: yes, there are too many characters and only a few are narratively significant; yes, the villains are very villain-y and there’s not a lot of nuance; yes, it’s convenient that all of a sudden, this longstanding and verrrrrry secret society of rich lazy white boys is outed en masse, simultaneously, in a creative writing class survey; yes, a prank escalation seems like a disproportionately mild response to the situation, but be aware that escalation can really…escalate. what starts with a stolen scooter sometimes ends…more dramatically.

it's a fun and funny book, and while it may not be as #metoo #messageheavy as other recently published books on the subject, that doesn't mean it is without lessons about life and love.

“You don’t make a spork for a guy you’re not into.”

something to keep in mind...

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Tammy.
505 reviews422 followers
May 2, 2019
A new teacher at a third-rate boarding school assigns to her creative writing students the task of answering what appear to be innocent questions. The answers reveal much more than she anticipated not only about the students themselves but about hidden activities occurring at the school. Cleverly done, with a powerful message this novel is amusing as well as uncomfortable. What bothered me most was that a friend’s son spoke of a similar situation at his high school so despite the humor contained within the book there is some degree of truth present.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?” Maybe. In this instance it’s more like hell hath no fury like teen-aged girls who have been exploited, objectified and humiliated. Believe me, these girls aren’t fooling around.
Profile Image for Liz.
1,959 reviews2,406 followers
July 15, 2019
4.5 stars, rounded up

I was a huge fan of Lutz’s The Passenger and the entire Spellman series. While the Spellman books were all just great fun, The Passenger showed she had the chops to do an intriguing, serious mystery.

With The Swallows, we get something different again. Alex Witt arrives at a New England boarding school thinking she’s going to teach English Lit, but gets handed creative writing instead. This isn't some posh school, it seems to be more half baked than serious. And what a cast of characters! We hear not only from Alex, but a variety of teachers and students. The students run the gamut of teenage personalities, but the adults (other than Alex) are off the chart weird (as you would expect of anyone teaching at a third rate boarding school).

Lutz retains her wicked turn of phrase ability - “Stonebridge May look like Green Gables, but it’s the Bada Bing Club for the preppy set.”

Normally this subject matter wouldn’t enthrall me. Pissy, entitled teenager boys lord it over the girls in the school. But, it just kept me engrossed. I wanted to see if/how the boys got their comeuppance. It’s sad to think that in 2009, the girls are still seen as objects, things to be manipulated. And the ending, well, I couldn’t read that ending fast enough. Wow, wow, wow.

I had one minor quibble with the book. Admittedly, we only see a microcosm of the entire school population, but I can’t believe that a majority of the school officials and teachers would have been willing to turn a blind eye to the goings on.

My thanks to netgalley and Random House- Ballantine for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,413 reviews77.5k followers
July 8, 2019
Dang it. Honestly, it pains me to give this one anything less than a stellar review, as Lisa Lutz is one of my favorite authors, and I credit her Spellman Files series to getting me out of a multi-year reading slump. All that to say, please take this review with a grain of salt, and know full well that I could be the outlier here, due to the fact that I know she can write the heck out of a story.

Perhaps the fact that this one felt so off base from her previous works is what threw me off initially, so the predictable nature of this story left me underwhelmed and unsatisfied. There are a lot of characters in this story, and it was quite difficult keeping them all straight and determining just why some were even included. I love a good challenge in my reading, but I need for it to have purpose and meaning, not to just be used as a plot device to bloat the page count.

Upon finishing this book, I'm hard pressed to tell you what genre this book technically falls. Overall, I got a heavy YA vibe from the voices of the characters, setting, and plot, yet I'm unsure that this would actually appeal to the YA audience, which could be why I'm waffling around this detail. I guess there is a mystery at hand, but I can guarantee at least half of the reading population will figure it out early and be sorely disappointed at the payoff after such buildup.

Overall, I'm sure you can tell I didn't connect well with this one, but I still hold the author in the highest regard and will continue to search for future work from her. I highly recommend you give this one a try for yourself, as this could be the book for you if the synopsis sounds appealing!

*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,583 reviews1,981 followers
May 13, 2019
At the beginning of this book I thought, "Okay, this clearly takes place in a fictional universe of boarding school novels where we have dropped all pretense that anything in it is real or related to real life." And I was willing to suspend my disbelief for that. Boarding school novels can be campy fun or dark microcosms of teenage misbehavior. I'm down for that. This is a school where the staff is made up of *checks notes* six adults while there are 400 students, though we only ever meet about ten of these students and the rest of them seem to not actually exist. Okay, whatever, let's do it.

Around a third of the way through I thought, "Okay, we're going to get some interesting gender wars here. Maybe this is satire? It could be satire. Nothing in it feels all that satirical but the lack of realism and the committed-to-weirdness plot could mean satire. Let's wait for some sharp topical insight." And I waited.

I should have stopped reading it once I'd given it some more space and still couldn't get my bearings. But I like Lisa Lutz, I've read several of her novels, I thought her last one was her best so far, I figured she had to have something smart waiting for me. But at the end I was just mad enough to want to throw this book.

There does not seem to be much of a point to it all. Teenage boys are terrible. Girls decide to fight back. Things escalate. It's not going to end well. The broad strokes are not exactly new, in this kind of scenario it's all about the details. And the details here never meshed. The teenage boys are so terrible they are irredeemable. We get one as a narrator who helps out the girls and maybe he's supposed to be sympathetic, but he never seems to take any responsibility for his bad actions. (No one takes any responsibility in this book because the terrible teenage boys are capable of such ridiculous revenge that no one dares, which... what??? But I guess that's okay in a book where not only are the teenage boys capable of these dramatic acts of revenge, they are also apparently capable of keeping a secret for years that they also then all decide to stop keeping for the same school assignment? I'm sorry I could do this for HOURS but I will not.) The teachers are truly awful for no real purpose except to maybe remind us that adults are just older teenagers. There is no explanation for so much awfulness, so I guess you could see this as one of those super dark books like Fight Club where everyone is just so totally effed-up that that is the point but this book sure seems to think the girls are at least mostly justified so I don't think that's it either! The teacher who is the closest thing we have to a protagonist is at an odd remove from the action and it's unclear what she even has to do with anything besides give us some B plot.

I do not know why Lutz's usual darkly comic gifts have failed her so utterly here, sometimes a bit would land but none of them ever stuck that landing. And given the amount of manipulation, sexual coercion, sharing of images of underage children, and all on display, it feels like it should all DO something. It should mean something or take you somewhere. We live in a world with so much misogyny, it's not that we don't want some humor with it, it's just that if we're going to get it in our entertainment it's still going to hurt so you have to make it worth it. You have to give us something to believe in or laugh at or get excited about.

To its credit, this book does have a truly excellent flowchart called The Blowchart that they should give out to actual teenagers because it is very good advice.

I do not think this book has much to say that is useful or interesting about feminism or patriarchy or teenage misogyny and manipulation. If you would like a book like that, I would directly you to the very excellent 2018 novel THE RED WORD by Sarah Henstra, which is also about a kind of gender war, this time at a college, that is a very smart and gutsy book that I highly enjoyed and which very much deserves your time.
Profile Image for Monica.
517 reviews156 followers
August 25, 2019
Although painful to read in some places, due to the horrific actions of a few, this was an amazing book. Clearly 5⭐️ for me!

The message it brings to light is similar to the new form of hazing/bullying that is greatly magnified with social media. But the story is much deeper than the flippant “technology is bad” philosophy. By the end of the story, we learn the origins of the behavior and compliance of many adults, are what has allowed this culture to continue.

This was a fast paced novel and I was completely shocked by the conclusion! The reactions from all characters is so realistic, you could have been reading a current news article concerning a boarding school or college campus.

I highly recommend this book to all YA readers. Due to explicit details, my personal opinion is 14+.

*Many thanks to NetGalley and publishers for the advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Blaine.
727 reviews580 followers
May 18, 2021
In a perfect world, they wouldn’t need to fight. That’s not the world I live in. You can keep telling girls to be polite, to keep a level head and it’ll all work out in the end. But don’t be surprised when they figure out that you’ve been feeding them lies. Don’t be alarmed when they grow tired of using their voices and playing by your rules. And don’t be shocked when they decide that if they can’t win a fair fight, they’ll just have to find another way.
I received an ARC from Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I find myself reading more and more fiction by women and POC about topics such as feminism and racism. Call it my personal reaction to the political events of the last few years. Some of these works have been better than others, of course. The Swallows has been one of the best I’ve read.

As I was reading the story, I was already trying to think about how it’d summarize it in this review when, in a rather meta moment, one of the characters did it for me:
“Son, you’ll never get anywhere if you can’t do a proper elevator pitch. You’re burying the lead. It’s a twisted noir about a bizarre sexual competition that has become the backbone of the social hierarchy at a long-standing boarding school.”
That quotation really sums things up quite nicely. A new teacher, Alex Witt, immediately senses that there’s something deeply wrong at Stonebridge Academy. Alex is a wonderfully written character; trying so hard not to care this time, she’s sarcastic, wry, and damaged. Alex inspires a group of girls, led by Gemma Russo—another sharply written character—to try to change the social order in the school once and for all. The plot builds nicely, well-paced and believable, until events begin to spiral beyond any of the characters’ control.

I can see from other reviews that this book was not loved by all, but I think The Swallows is a gem, turning the #metoo movement into a noir thriller. Highly recommended.

P.S. The blowchart is so perfect Ballantine should print it on posters and give them to every high school on earth.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,027 reviews660 followers
February 29, 2020
"Boys will be boys."  I've heard it all my life and wager that you have, too.  It's a poor excuse for some of the behavior taking place at Stonebridge Academy.  The Darkroom.  It's not dark enough to obscure the nasty goings-on there, nor the resultant fallout.  A point will be reached when the truth no longer matters, and any lies told are for one's own good.  It's high time for a reckoning, and the girls here are sick to death of behaving like proper young ladies.
Profile Image for Victoria.
412 reviews316 followers
December 22, 2019
The axe forgets, but the tree remembers. African Proverb

I’ve long been a fan of Lutz’ work. I laughed through her Spellman series, enjoyed her cleverness in The Last Word and The Passenger was a wild ride in thriller territory. But this one seems to take everything from all of those previous, the humor, the ingenuity and suspense and raises the bar. This is a revenge story for our times.

You can keep telling girls to be polite, to keep a level head and it’ll all work out in the end. But don’t be surprised when they figure out that you’ve been feeding them lies. Don’t be alarmed when they grow tired of using their voices and playing by your rules. And don’t be shocked when they decide that if they can’t win a fair fight, they’ll just have to fight dirty.

Snarky, brainy and just this side of sinister.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,414 reviews7,408 followers
October 3, 2019
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

4.5 Stars

“Non ducor, duco. I am not led. I lead.”

In what has become a season of mediocre reactions and wrongreading, allow me to take a moment for a book that made me say . . . . .

Lisa Lutz is an author who has been on my radar basically since I became active on Goodreads, but one I avoided in fear of disappointing my Goodreads friends (I did finally buy The Spellman Files a couple of weeks ago when I found it at HPB clearance event for two bucks so I’m getting closer). When I saw this non-Spellman selection over on NetGalley I figured what the hell. And then I didn’t read it until the dang thing was already published. But whatever. E for effort, right?

Anyway, the only thing I knew about this before going in was the familiarity of the author’s name and . . . .

Stonebridge may look like Green Gables, but it’s like the Bada Bing for the preppy set.

The plot is pretty simple . . .

“What’s the plan?”

“Build an army, take down the Darkroom, and end Dulcinea.”

After an eternity of dealing with a “boys will be boys” approach to discipline at Stonebridge Academy, the girls have decided it’s time to take matters into their own hands. What follows is a wickedly delightful tale of revenge. Told from various perspectives including a female teacher, a male teacher, a female student, a male student and the “Announcements,” my first (EDIT: SECOND - she wrote a chick-litty type of book I read years back and forgot about - Whoops!) experience with Lisa Lutz was a real pageturner. I loved how even though it was technically a boys vs. girls story and 100% a guide to owning your own sexuality as a female and empowerment and yada yada - it was presented without any male bashing. The boys who deserved to be punished got what was coming to them. The boys who did not were a vital part of the story and allies with the girls. My only complaint? It dragged on just a teensie bit too long (others will complain that the ending was totally over-the-top, but it was so awesomely extra it just made me giddy). I also think this should have been marketed as a Young Adult (my definition of YA is generally mid to late teens) book. Even old grannies like me have moved on past instalove. We want edgy, envelope pushing stories when it comes to the young adult genre . . . . .

4.5 Stars, but rounding up because my first reaction to the explanation behind the title was . . . .

And that’s always a good thing.

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, NetGalley!
Profile Image for Katie B.
1,256 reviews2,940 followers
October 28, 2019
4.5 stars

Lisa Lutz was already one of my favorite authors, and this book just further cemented her status. It's her most thought-provoking novel yet. This book stirs up emotions and makes you think which is always a winning combination.

Alexandra Witt takes on a position as a creative writing teacher at Stonebridge Academy. She's curious about something called the Darkroom and starts investigating as it sounds super shady. She soon learns some of the female students aren't too happy with the attitudes and actions of certain male students connected to the Darkroom. Perhaps they can come up with a plan to infiltrate the Darkroom and bring it down once and for all. The story follows the perspectives of Ms Witt, Mr. Finn, a teacher at Stonebridge, Gemma, a senior and leader of the resistance, and Norman, a reluctant participant in the nefarious activities of the Darkroom.

The story incorporate many of the issues of the #metoo movement so this could be a difficult read for some readers. It might seem like the plot is outlandish but yet if I try to pinpoint which parts of the story could never happen in real life, I can't do it. It's both sad and scary that pretty much every plot point, I've actually read about in the news, or at least some variation of it. You might think the whole Darkroom thing sounds crazy but it shares a lot in common with that disturbing colored sex bracelet "game" that found its way into schools not that long ago. The author just shines a light on so many issues and does it in a brilliant way in my opinion.

This book is part of the regular old fiction genre but it does have a slight young adult fiction feel to it. (And I'm not saying that as a negative thing because I think YA fiction is highly underrated.) This is mostly due to the boarding school setting and two of the narrators being students. Maybe it's because I am female, but for me Ms Witt and Gemma were the heart of the story and definitely the characters I identified with the most. And I think Lisa Lutz could have taken the easy way out and had all the female characters act and think the same way but she didn't. It sounds like such a simple thing to show women have minds of their own and their views don't always align with one another but yet I think many authors would not have shown the reality of this fact. The characters in the book were complex, you know, kinda like real people. It's like every detail in this book was so well-thought out, I'm just in awe.

The only teeny, tiny criticism I have is the story felt a tad long at 400 some pages. Although I'm not sure what exactly I would cut out to trim down the length because even the side plots enhanced the overall story. I guess you could also argue the slow pace helped build up the tension.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in seeing how a smart and creative writer takes on the issues of the #metoo movement. Readers who liked The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis might also want to check this book out as well.
Profile Image for Carrie.
3,087 reviews1,511 followers
October 14, 2019
Having read and enjoyed a book by Lisa Lutz before I was really expecting to really enjoy The Swallows however that really didn’t turn out to be the case. Just picking this one up I began thinking it has a bit of an identity problem as it felt like a cross between an adult novel and a young adult read.

The main character in The Swallows is actually an adult, Alexandra Witt, who has found herself in the position of needing a new teaching job. This brings Ms. Witt to Stonebridge Academy where after some odd negotiations she ends up with a job teaching creative writing and we as readers get our first glimpse into Stonebridge not exactly being a top ranked academy.

Now as our new teacher sulks into her new position she was not expecting she tosses a random writing prompt at her new class. Well, after being told that the assignment could/would be anonymous some of the students gave answers which lead their new teacher to being concerned with what goes one behind these walls.

Now, as I mentioned I struggled with not calling this one young adult with it being set in a school and then having a good portion of the point of view being handed to the students. It also had such a variety of characters in this story it never really became one I got overly connected to them either and would even mix the POV up even going back to adult. When finished this one ended up with an overall meh feeling somewhat burying it’s better parts.

I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

For more reviews please visit https://carriesbookreviews.com/
Profile Image for Susan.
1,062 reviews200 followers
July 27, 2019
OMG! My eyeballs need a good cleaning as I struggled to finish this book. I got 60% done and I literally could read no more. I read more about oral sex than I ever wanted and the troubles of high school students. This was set in a high school boarding school where a small band of popular male students set up a secret rating system of the oral sex they receive. They even award a secret trophy for the "best" accomplishment.
There is, of course, a teacher that buys them alcohol and a blind eye from the administration. They humiliate females by releasing naked pictures and forcing several girls to leave the school because they are so ashamed. It's truly awful. The catalyst seems to be the arrival of a new teacher whose father is a semi well known author. She joins the girls in uncovering and exposing the plot.
I was even more disappointed as I liked this author's Spellman Files series. This was just awful. I have literally nothing good to say about it.

Thanks to Net Galley for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,083 reviews30.1k followers
October 29, 2019
I received a complimentary copy from Random House.

This was a thought-provoking and entertaining read and so much more than just a suspense book.

What do you love? What do you hate? What do you want? This is the writing prompt from Alex Witt, the new creative writing teacher at Stonebridge Academy boarding school. The students answers bring out some disturbing revelations. There’s a social hierarchy at school that involves “The Darkroom.” Ms. Witt unifies the girls at the school into a resistance movement (along the lines of “Me, too”), but then she’s outed with a dark secret of her own.

Secrets are coming out from every crack and crevice at the school while tensions between the boys and girls are rising to a mounting level. Someone may get hurt. Oh, and girls may be girls when they’ve had enough of boys being boys. I LOVED the empowerment here. I loved the themes. There was clever humor sprinkled in to keep this from being overwhelmingly dark. The Swallows is a smart and timely thriller.

Many of my reviews can also be found on instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Profile Image for Krystin | TheF**kingTwist.
457 reviews1,718 followers
January 19, 2023
Book Blog | Bookstagram

This was 400 pages about girls at a boarding school going all Sally Field-Norma Rae with shaved heads because they’ve somehow fallen into a secret game of giving blow jobs for points to all the popular boys at the school who have a yearly championship bracket.

All of the teaching staff knows kind of, but turn a blind eye because…I guess…rich parents? Or college admissions? Or reputation? Or whatever else rich people care about. I’m still a little fuzzy on why full-grown, educated adults dedicated to America’s youth would be all elbow patches and tweed and please ignore our student sex ring. But whatever.

When new teacher, Alex Witt, gives the first assignment to her creative writing class, she becomes very suspicious of the number of girls using the assignment to wish that blowjobs would cease to exist, so she starts a little investigation. Soon, there are secret videos of her meant to be threats, footprints around her cabin like she’s being stalked and all the other teachers are like, “Blowjobs? What blowjob competition? Stop talking about blowjobs! What even are blowjobs? Girl, you are wild!”

And Ms. Witt is all…

Ms. Witt decides to lend her feminist expertise to the girls who have secretly mobilized to bring down the blowjob nonsense. Witt even creates a handy flowchart for them about when/how you should give a blowjob. She calls it a Blowchart (one star has been awarded in my review for this,) and it basically goes: “DON’T GIVE BLOWJOBS UNLESS YOU WANT TO.”

I feel like I should have been able to clearly see a good point in this novel about sex culture and consent, but it remained too subtle throughout. We’re talking about underage girls and blackmail and manipulation basically between children, and yet nothing really comes of it.

Genre-wise, I don’t know why this is labelled as a mystery-thriller, but it’s not. Parts of it feel like a contemporary trying to make a serious point about patriarchy and sexual freedom, and then other parts feel like it’s written about teenagers for teenagers.

My second star is given for the blowjob scene with the hot peppers because that was fucking hilarious.

Otherwise, this is a pointless book for me. It didn’t make any solid points. The plot was full of logic holes and it’s not the mystery/thriller it was marketed as.

So….*fart noises*

⭐⭐ | 2 stars.
Profile Image for Misty.
290 reviews143 followers
April 27, 2020
This little gem, set in a private north-eastern co-ed boarding school, manages to merge the overtly sexual focus of hormonal teenage boys, with the insecurity of teenage girls and the consequences of no adult supervision. The result is a maelstrom of angst that results in violence that any attentive teacher or administrator should have seen coming from a mile away.

The plot focuses on a group of over-indulged, privileged boys who rate the performance of eager-to-please teenage girls as they drop to their knees to offer oral sex. At the end of the year, the girl with the highest blow-job score (who is almost always in the dark regarding the entire process) is then declared the winner of the “Dulcinea Award”. Though the admin and staff seem to have knowledge of this, it is with a wink and a nod that life on campus moves forward through the year. New teacher Alex Witt, however, can’t, upon discovery of this perverse campus tradition, look the other way and encourages a few girls who have also uncovered the existence of the Dulcinea to stand up for themselves, develop some self-esteem and fight back. As the war is waged, loyalties are tested, traditions are toppled and reputations, as well as lives, are ultimately lost.

This book takes a hard look at what happens when we pander to elite males and sweep under the rug the concerns of our young women; when we ignore what is the beginning of the practices that eventually lead to women identifying with the #metoo movement. It is a cautionary tale that is both timely and relevant. Though a bit heavy handed at times, any teacher or informed parent will appreciate the kernels of truth tucked into these pages. Lutz has tapped into the culture of male-dominance that is evident even in our teenagers and carried it to a conclusion that is frighteningly possible.
Profile Image for Kelli.
844 reviews391 followers
May 12, 2020
This took me more than a month to finish during a pandemic stay-at-home order. That about sums it up.
2 stars
Profile Image for Laurie  (barksbooks).
1,705 reviews661 followers
November 27, 2019
The Swallows takes a look at the sexual antics taking place at a small private school. Antics that are allowed to continue even as underage girls are rated and shamed and end up leaving the school when the hoard decides to turn on them. It’s pretty awful stuff and the title is exactly what you might think it is as well as a little something more.

All the things get stirred up when a new teacher arrives at the school. She has the teens fill out an anonymous questionnaire and notices some disturbing answers that send her on a mission to find out exactly what “The Dark Room” is and why so many fear/hate it. One thing leads to another and the young ladies realize they have a way to fight back and fix the power imbalance and when it happens it is a glorious thing. Though I wish it had been darker and nastier but I’m a terrible person who definitely reads too much horror, haha.

This book was one of those infectious reads that make you stop everything to keep reading/listening. I knew revenge was ultimately coming because I might’ve sneaked a peek at a review or two just to be sure and I was there for it. My only real complaint was the huge cast. It’s too large for this book, if you’re asking me, and especially if you are listening on audio because many voices sound too similar. And everyone has a side-story. There are teachers, students, groundskeepers, a parent or two. I had some trouble keeping up with names and histories and connections and hookups and other dastardly deeds, I cannot lie. Even with that said, it was a still a strong enough gossipy story that I never felt the need to shut it down forever. I’ll always wish the ending had been longer (it felt SO rushed), bleaker and meaner but I know all books can’t end the way Cockblock by C.V. Hunt did!
Profile Image for Judy.
1,055 reviews
July 19, 2019
This is my first Lisa Lutz book and I really enjoyed the read. This was so off the wall that I didn't take any of it seriously and just went with it - I don't think the book was meant to be serious although there are some deep-seated male/female issues shining through. You can read the intro to find out what the book it about, but let me tell you what I liked.

I thought the character Alex Witt was badass - her mother was as well so she got it honest. Gemma was a true leader and her decisiveness helped move the story along. Most of the males were immature jerks. The headmaster was totally clueless! I thought the "blowchart" was a nice touch.
The writing, the characters, and the plot all kept me interested. I will probably pick up another of Lisa Lutz's books soon because I enjoyed the writing.

The only thing I didn't really like was the number of points of view the story was told from. Sometimes it was hard to remember whose head you were in while reading what they were thinking/doing.

Thanks to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine through Netgalley for an advance copy.

Profile Image for Dennis.
745 reviews1,425 followers
August 6, 2019
I've never read anything by Lisa Lutz, but after devouring The Swallows , I think I may need to catch up on her previous works. When new teacher, Alex Witt, begins her tenure at Stonebridge Academy, she starts noticing some secretive activity between some of her students and the faculty at large. There's mentions of a social hierarchy between student classes—the Ten, as they like to be called are the social elite and there's one for each year in the school. Alex also starts finding out about a secretive gathering of male students that keep mentioning "The Darkroom". Although teaching is not her passion, Alex stumbles on disturbing facts that she cannot allow to keep hidden. Why is Stonebridge Academy trying so hard to keep the status-quo when there's serious allegations and controversies happening under their discretion?

Before I get any hate, I know that the story in The Swallows is a little all over the place at times. We had some irrelevant POVs throughout the story, the ending is very melodramatic and over-the-top, and we had a lot of main(ish) characters that served no purpose. HOWEVER, I really was enthralled throughout the story—from beginning to end. I could not put down The Swallows even if I tried. I wanted to find out how Alex was going to deal with the conflict at hand (which I cannot say or get into any further), and I wanted to also see how the students were handling it as well. The Swallows falls in between adult and young adult fiction, which worked for me. The subject matter was very not young adult, but at the same time, the narrative felt geared for a younger audience at times. Whatever that means, it worked for me. I usually do not enjoy young adult novels because they tend to gravitate towards ridiculousness, but it worked with The Swallows . Overall, The Swallows is a very compelling and real depiction of how society has, and still is, in the stone ages when it comes to gender equality. Perfect for anyone who wants a novel reflecting student life right before the #metoo era (book takes place in 2009). I think this book will have a lot of differing viewpoints, but everyone will have an opinion.
Profile Image for Lynne Lambdin.
255 reviews5 followers
June 28, 2019
Let me start this little spiel by praising Lisa Lutz. I've loved her talent for quite some time. Shoot, I am even one of the few who genuinely loved Heads You Lose. Which I still suggest for a fun read on Reddit all the time. And the Spellman series permanently bonded me to Lisa Lutz as a fan. So I went into The Swallows with my hopes so high that your kiss book might kill me like the wise men of Dashboard Confessional once sang. So I guess we can consider me dead because my hopes were butchered up and buried. Headless hope or not, The Swallows, will not deter me from reading more from Liza Lutz. But let the rambling and murder comparisons come to a halt and I'll spill the tea.

The Swallows is told from many points of views (...strike one!). Some of those views include Ms. Witt, the new, mysterious and angsty creative writing teacher. Basically Ms. Witt stumbles upon a dark school secret that really riles up the school's female population. Enters Gemma, the popular girl, who doesn't even have to try yet she is trying harder than anyone. Gemma is a take no shit kind of gal, so she wants to take matters into her own hands on matters regarding this secret. But as the plot unfolds, it all goes incredibly wonky resulting in an epic men are from Mars, Women are from Venus show down.

What didn't I like? - No One Asks....

Well I shall tell you anyways. First, there are about two hundred characters minimum. Yes, I am slightly exaggerating. But there are so many students, parents and teachers that it was almost impossible to know who was who. There were so many times I had no clue and simply could not tell one from the other. So I just read it and was like "Oh, remember that thing that happened to one of the 16 bazillion character with unrecognizable names I will never remember? ...." It basically was a headache to try and keep up with this storyline while simultaneously trying to remember 50 angsty characters. So there goes a star. And then there were 4....

Next! This story is being marketed as a Mystery & Thriller, Women's Fiction novel. I got this information from NetGalley and confirmed this genre through the Goodreads genre tags. And I have to admit, it is not being marketed correctly. I don't know who thought this would best target women, but the teenage point of view and high school setting outweigh the annoying, teenage like adults. In my opinion, the focus of the book was far more appropriate for a YA (later teens) aged reader. I think whomever decided to label it with the Women's Fiction book did this novel a disservice. It will resonate with older teenagers much better than grown women. More on this genre classification. It is called a Mystery & Thriller. I would not call this novel a thriller at all. And does a not so secret secret make a novel a mystery? There was no big mysterious revelation or major twist reveal. My personal opinion is this classification will do more harm than good for this book. And then there were 3....

On to the next! There were honestly so many pointless plots in this story. The example I am about to give is not a spoiler. Ms. Witt has a father who is an Author and randomly shows up all the time. All her co-workers and students ask if she is related to said author. And it honestly amounts to a whole lot of nothing. Like I really just either missed the point or my other theory is there was no point. Maybe this is a whole men need women lesson. No clue. But if someone went through and deleted all those paragraphs the story would be no better or worse. Pointless. Also, Ms. Witt comes to school on some more than suspicious circumstances. But there is a little invention called the internet. So obviously someone seeks it out. The "big" secret was kind of underwhelming. This was really built up too. I was essentially promised a real pony for my birthday and I got a fricken stuffed horse! There is more point than the famous author dad, but don't get carried away with credit there. These aren't the only plots that I found no use in there were a few others. But who knows maybe I am being hyper critical. I will just say that I am looking forward to more reviews on this one to see if others had similar feelings. And then there were 2.....

And there you have it, a two star story. Which I truly hate to give to Lisa Lutz just because she is an author that I associate with reverence. But this story was not for me. And I really think they should reconsider who they think the target audience for this novel truly is. But I will say, I totally love the punny title. That is the Lisa Lutz we know and love!

Thank you NetGalley and Random House Publishing for a copy of The Swallows.
Profile Image for Chandra Claypool (WhereTheReaderGrows).
1,536 reviews317 followers
July 29, 2019
Stonebridge Academy has some secrets and the Darkroom is at the heart of it. Alex Witt, who has just joined as a teacher and quickly learns of the all too well known “boys will be boys” phenomena going on. No one has been able to stop it. What will it take and when is enough enough?

I absolutely love Witt’s character. The Blowchart she makes, while you may first giggle at the title comparative to the subject matter, you quickly learn the true meaning and the lesson behind it all. LOVE the final message. The issue here is that when there's an academy/school such as this where certain *traditions* continue because people are too afraid to speak up to save their own asses, it turns into a vicious cycle where at the end of the day, everyone becomes a victim. Retaliations may not be worth the cost but something still needs to be done and while boys will be boys and girls will be girls - the girls will become warriors and god help those in their way.

There were moments where it lost a little spark for me but overall a fabulous read about gender wars. Behind this heavy subject manner is humor and electricity from Witt's characters, the quiet hero in some of the boys who knows what's wrong, the surging of power within the girls who are targets, willingly or not. Competitiveness at the price of morality. Does any of this really change? Or is it just muffled until the next wave? We'll never truly know. It's the heart of this story - where lessons are learned and a heavy price is paid that tugs at your emotions.

Lutz is, and continues to be, a favorite author of mine. And this cover, once you've read the story, really stands out and speaks volumes. I love a simple cover with a TON of meaning.
Profile Image for Lisa.
Author 37 books6,748 followers
August 17, 2019
This latest by Lutz is gripping, darkly funny, and whip smart. I am a sucker for an isolated college campus populated by people with lots of secrets — delicious and twisty.
Profile Image for Jess | thegreeneyedreader.
175 reviews69 followers
November 22, 2019
4/5 - I read an ebook of this very quickly. Lisa Lutz is such a great writer of suspense. I absolutely loved The Passenger, and I’ve been waiting with excitement for this book to be released. This one did not disappoint (even though I still liked The Passenger more).

This book focuses on a dysfunctional prep school for high school aged boys and girls. A group of boys run a (sort of) secret website called The Dark Room that has a secret channel in which they rank girls based on their oral sex performance. Some of the girls start a revolution against the boys and all hell breaks loose. There are some twists and turns as you read on trying to find out the secrets behind the Dulcinea award and other situations.

My only real critique is this felt a bit more like a young adult read than an adult thriller. That said, I tore through the pages very quickly and it kept my attention the entire time.

I am looking forward to reading whatever Lisa Lutz writes next.
Profile Image for Kristy K.
963 reviews119 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
September 25, 2019
DNF 45%

I tried for over a month and just couldn't finish. It doesn't help that it sparked my reading slump.

I kept waiting for something to happen and nothing ever did. There was a lot of hinting but nothing seemed to come of it. Alex Witt's and Finn's characters both annoyed me and honestly sometimes I couldn't tell their POVs apart.

I received an advanced copy through Netgalley in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,402 reviews988 followers
August 8, 2019
A toxic ball of nastiness pervades a prep school and it's girls v boys in a twisted yet terrifyingly realistic scenario. Full review near UK publication 10th Sept.
Profile Image for Emily.
1,265 reviews331 followers
August 13, 2019
The Swallows was the first book I've read by Lisa Lutz, and I enjoyed it! I loved the boarding school setup.

Although it was an entertaining read, this book was not perfect. There were way too many characters with their own POVs (and some felt unnecessary). I think this could have been a really great story with some editing and tightening of the plot. It did go on for a little bit too long and I began to lose interest. It's almost like this book had all the pieces for an amazing story, but they didn't quite fit together sometimes.

I also feel like the story didn't have an overall message as intended. It had some good things to say, but I'm having a difficult time completely seeing the point in books that are heavily focused on a binary view of gender. I think this book would have been better with more diversity. It was like the other students outside of this class didn't even exist, and it was odd at times.

I know it sounds like I had a lot of problems, but I did have fun reading this book. I would check out more from Lisa Lutz in the future.
Profile Image for Alexa.
Author 5 books3,156 followers
June 21, 2019
The Swallows was ridiculous and over-the-top and I loved it. If you're looking for Sex Education (Netflix) in book form for the #MeToo generation, this is your book. Just make sure you go in wanting a bit of a romp, because I think if taken too seriously, The Swallows won't land. It's a fun book.

It's multi-POV, 1st person with helpful chapter headings to let you know whose POV you're in. I only had to go back to remind myself who I was with once or twice--honestly it's a case where it could have easily been in third limited and felt the same; the whole book has a punchy adult literary tone that really works. Alex Witt is our primary main character, the daughter of a famous crime fiction writer who fled her last teaching job in scandal and has landed at Stonebridge, a middling boarding school with a dark secret.

The secret is sex. The boys are garbage and treat the girls like sex objects. There's this whole not-so-secret society thing where the boys have a digital locker room of sorts where they rate girls on their blowjob skills, and the girls who find out don't like it one bit. Our primary teen character is Gemma Russo, rebel with connections to the popular set (called The Ten) who is out to dismantle the whole system. We also get POV chapters from Finn Ford, douchebag teacher/novelist, and Norman Crowley, techny nerd kid who helps fuel The Darkroom but feels bad about it.

Both the female protagonists read like Manic Pixie Dream Girls if you only concentrate on the top level details. Alex is brusque but sexy, witty, doesn't care about trivial bullshit, etc. She's the ultimate Cool Teacher, like Dead Poets Society but a 30-something-woman who gives no fucks. Finn immediately sexually objectifies her, thanks. (his POV is there in large part to contrast to the actually-fleshed-out women and demonstrate gender bullshit; it works.) Gemma is pretty but actively hides it by styling herself punk/emo, she's smart and badass, always has a quip. She's honestly a carbon copy of Maeve from Sex Education, and I even pictured her looking like her, hence why I drew that comparison. Alex and Gemma are stereotypical "strong female protagonists," who in a different book by a different author with a different POV character (male, like Finn) would come across as very different characters--thin, shallow. But they really work in Lutz's hands. Both women are complex, vulnerable, and, for me, relatable. Even though I have almost nothing in common with either of them--I related to their spirits, and their palpable anger.

This is really a book, wrapped up in a hooky commercial and slightly ridiculous plot, about anger. About rape culture, #MeToo, modern feminism. It presents everything mostly without explicit commentary, which I appreciated. It was there on the page--female characters Witt's age or older who enabled the rape culture at the school, even blamed the girls. The men who participated and the men who did not. The spread of girls and their varying reactions to the sex games going on. One woman Witt's age (approximately 40) comments that they had it worse as teen girls. Witt responds that, no, she thinks these girls have it worse. It was straightforward, just there on the page to chew on. I liked it. Ultimately, I do think the book is a reflection of rape culture, rather than an answer to it. I didn't leave the book feeling anything would really change for the antagonist characters.

But then, okay, as I mentioned the boarding school stuff is RIDICULOUS. And I love a good ridiculous boarding school book (so I liked this one). I almost rolled my eyes a few times though. From "The Ten," which posits the popular crowd in each grade was comprised of the "top ten" students, but not based in academics--just at any given time in each grade there were ten kids who appointed themselves the most popular and they all hung out? Really a stretch for me. And then the Darkroom and the editors and the Dulcinea. Well, ok. The Darkroom I believe. But every time they referred to themselves as the editors I just deep sighed. The Dulcinea had a great payoff--I mean it's the crux of the whole book.

But I'd just like to remind everyone that 60% of teens are not having sex. Today teens have LESS sex than in the past. So this is why you have to kind if disengage your reality filter and read this as a fun romp, because the sexual antics are a bit over-the-top. A LOT of these girls are having sex from age 14 or 15, which I think is meant to be sex positive but just feels statistically ridiculous? Every single girl depicted in this book is having sex. No one is queer. Many students sleep with teachers. I mean, it's fine, but just something I thought of a lot reading it. In that sense, it definitely feels properly like an adult book (which it is), rather than a YA.

Anyway, I loved reading it. Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Virginia.
934 reviews109 followers
September 9, 2022
I’m going to blow the bank and give this 5 stars just because I enjoyed it so much. Several other (and better) reviewers have expressed my exact feelings about this huge shemozzle of a book: it’s character-heavy and a bit long, and the plot is over the top; the humour was uneven and the multiple points of view sometimes confusing. However the book is more than the sum of its parts and I really did get a kick out of it.

I identified strongly with Gemma, the orphan who dragged herself out of one shitpile and into another, I wanted her to win no matter what, and I did end up getting my “what.” I guess I should have cared more about that one guy, but ya know, it's a book, not real life, and he got what was coming to him, as grandma would say. Justice must be seen to be done. My own takeaway from this is that selfishness and narcissism-by-choice come with a high price, and the power of working together to succeed is priceless.

I enjoyed Alex’s interaction with her sketchy parents, especially her birthday gift to Len - plots for his next novel. I’m not a writer but I got a kick out of that.

The Blowchart alone deserves 5 stars. It needs to be the basis of compulsory study in every school. Lisa Lutz, I’m looking forward to your TED Talk on this. I’m signing up all my granddaughters (and grandsons) now.
Profile Image for Brandy.
358 reviews39 followers
June 30, 2019
“Memory and reality are like cousins. Best-case scenario, they’re like first cousins. But sometimes they’re the kind of cousins who can marry.”

Yes, friends! That’s a direct quote. Please feel free to laugh out loud like I did. The Swallows, is filled with tons of wittiest, wildness and it even speaks of a few ok- busted many “B.J.’s” but it has no BS.

The Swallows was light, fluffy, youthful read to which you gladly “swallow” rather than spit. But being an adult and a parent it is one that I find difficult to accurately give a rating to. Oh, if I could only be one of the “editors” from this tale, perhaps I could give a better synopsis/rating of the humorous tale told within this read. 4 stars❤️
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