The Swallows

Ballantine. Aug. 2019. 416p. ISBN 9781984818232. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781984818249. F
Lutz (“Spellman” series; The Passenger) makes a promising start with this super-smart and biting novel set at a Vermont prep school. Alex Witt, daughter of a jaded novelist and former Soviet fencing champ, who are divorced but still entangled, arrives to teach literature at Stonebridge Academy after a messy incident at her previous job. She ends up heading a creative writing course instead and soon learns the popular boys at the school have a secret online club that ranks the girls’s oral-sex abilities. The girls, led by misfit orphan Gemma, become aware of this and wage war against the boys, egged on by Alex. What starts out as a digital, shamey campaign turns physical and dangerous. In the battle of the entitled sexes, nobody wins and some will lose their lives. A large cast of characters and multiple narrators slows down the story, but Gemma, Alex, and a scrappy first-year named Linny come alive. The male characters—teachers, a dean, boy allies, boy villains—are less believable but good foils. The ending feels rushed and chaotic, but that’s also fitting.
VERDICT Lutz’s many fans will enjoy this, as will those who devour boarding-school novels such as Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep or #metoo revenge stories. [See Prepub Alert, 3/11/19.]
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