The Swallows: A Novel

The Swallows: A Novel

by Lisa Lutz

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Overview

A teacher at a New England prep school ignites a gender war—with deadly consequences—in this dark and provocative novel by the bestselling author of The Passenger
 
“Riveting . . . full of imagination and power.”—Caroline Kepnes, author of You and Providence

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF AUGUST BY Bustle Entertainment Weekly PopSugar Refinery29

When Alexandra Witt joins the faculty at Stonebridge Academy, she’s hoping to put a painful past behind her. Then one of her creative writing assignments generates some disturbing responses from students. Before long, Alex is immersed in an investigation of the students atop the school’s social hierarchy—and their connection to something called the Darkroom. She soon inspires the girls who’ve started to question the school’s “boys will be boys” attitude and incites a resistance. But just as the movement is gaining momentum, Alex attracts the attention of an unknown enemy who knows a little too much about her—and 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 of revenge and disruption 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.

The Swallows is fast-moving, darkly humorous and at times shockingly vicious. The battle of the sexes within its pages couldn’t be more compelling. . . . Lutz delivers a frantic, morbidly funny story.”BookPage

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984818249
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/13/2019
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 600
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Lisa Lutz is the New York Times bestselling, Alex Award–winning author of the Spellman Files series, as well as the novels Heads You Lose (with David Hayward), How to Start a Fire, and The Passenger. She has also written for film and TV, including HBO’s The Deuce. She lives part-time in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Read an Excerpt

Part I

Ms. Witt

Some teachers have a calling. I’m not one of them.

I don’t hate teaching. I don’t love it either. That’s also my general stance on adolescents. I understand that one day they’ll rule the world and we’ll all have to live with the consequences. But there’s only so much I’m willing to do to mitigate that outcome. You’ll never catch me leaping atop my desk, quoting Browning, Shakespeare, or Jay-Z. I don’t offer my students sage advice or hard-won wisdom. I don’t dive into the weeds of their personal lives, parsing the muck of their hormone-addled brains. And I sure as hell never learned as much from them as they did from me.

It’s just a job, like any other. It has a litany of downsides, starting with money and ending with money, and a host of other drawbacks in between. There are a few perks. I like having summers off; I like winter and spring breaks; I like not having a boss breathing over my shoulder; I like books and talking about books and occasionally meeting a student who makes me see the world sideways. But I don’t get attached. I don’t get involved. That was the plan, at least.

I came to Stonebridge Academy because it was the only place where I was sure of a no-questions-asked job offer. The dean of students, Gregory Stinson, is an old family friend. I don’t know if he offered me the job knowing everything or nothing. Back then, Greg never spoke of unpleasant things.

Why I wanted to give it another go is beyond me. It’s not like I thought of teaching as my life’s work. I doubt I’ll ever have that. Maybe I just wanted to wrap up my career in education with a memory that didn’t make my skin crawl.

It was July 2009 when I first laid eyes on the campus. During my preliminary visit, Greg and I hammered out my contract in his musty old office, which overlooked fifty acres of dense woods. Under the thick brush of summer, I couldn’t see the veins and arteries of the interconnected hiking and cross-country-skiing trails that Stonebridge boasted of so proudly in its brochure. It seemed like too much space for four hundred or so high school students. Despite the classic prep school architecture—cathedral buildings, everything stone—I had heard rumors about the lax academic environment. Warren Prep kids had called Stonebridge students “Stoners.” I considered that detail its most attractive quality.

Greg was sure I was perfect for the libertarian style of his school, and his certainty compensated for my hesitation. We discussed my course schedule for the new year. I would teach three English literature classes and one American lit.

After that, Greg took me on a brief tour of the campus. His office and several classrooms were housed in an imposing stone structure that had no formal name. Later, I learned that the students called it Headquarters. It was the only building on campus without a literary appellation. You know the game where you take your first pet’s name and add the street you grew up on and, voilà, there’s your porn name? I think Stonebridge used a similar formula for naming their buildings and recreational grounds. Take the last name of a British (or occasionally Irish) poet or author and add House, Manor, Hall, Field, Commons, or Square to it. The center of campus was Fleming Square; students ate in Dahl Dining Hall; Tolkien Library and Samuel Beckett Gymnasium flanked Fielding Field.

Across from Headquarters, adjacent to Beckett Gym, was the headliner of the tour: the Oscar Wilde Bathhouse. We passed through double doors with a sign that read no students allowed, no exceptions. The marble compound, which housed a whirlpool tub, sauna, and steam showers, was apparently an extravagant gift from a former student.

“If this doesn’t seal the deal, I don’t know what will,” Greg said.

I had a feeling that Greg was using the bathhouse as camouflage. I suggested he show me faculty housing.

In silence, Greg led me across the square to a four-story brick building. There was a heavy drizzle outside, which made everything look like it was on the other side of a cheap, transparent shower curtain. We strolled past Dickens House, the boys’ dormitory. And, yes, they called it Dick House. Next to Dickens was a similar four-story brick structure. The sign above the door read woolf hall.

“Yes. After you,” Greg said, opening the thick paneled door.

“No thanks,” I said, taking a step back.

There was no point in entering the building. I would not live among them. That was a deal breaker, I explained. I thanked Greg for the tour and told him I had to be on my way. He told me I was being rash. I had driven two hours; the least I could do was take some time to think it over.

Greg gave me a hand-rendered map of the school grounds, which I think he drew himself. Either way, it was not beholden to any concept of scale or structural accuracy.

Greg walked me to the edge of Fielding Field and suggested I take some time before I made a final decision. I come back to that moment again and again. So many lives would have taken a different course had I not gone for a walk in the woods. That walk changed everything

From Fleming Square I followed George Eliot Trail past Evelyn Waugh Way, and continued for about a quarter mile, until I came upon a tiny stone cottage. It was at least ten minutes walk from Fleming Square and, at that time of year, surrounded by vibrant wildflowers. Cedar, pine, and maple trees towered over everything. A pond nearby rippled under the drizzle. It sounded so much better than that machine I’d bought to help me sleep.

The perfection of it all I now see as a trick, not of nature but of my own mind. I needed a sign, even a wink, from the universe to believe that I was making the right decision. I ignored the fact that the foundation was cracked and some of those stones resembled Jenga pieces. When I looked for the cottage on the map, it wasn’t there.

For someone looking for a place to hide, that was as good a sign as any.

I returned to Greg’s office and told him I would take the job if I could live in the cabin with no name. He said the place wasn’t habitable. He mentioned the absence of a shower. I reminded him of the bathhouse. He continued to resist. I told him those were my terms, take it or leave it. Greg reluctantly agreed.

I returned to campus on Labor Day, after dark. Classes were to begin the next morning. I picked up the key to the cottage from the guard at the security gate and followed the blue ink on my annotated map. A muddy fire lane took me just shy of twenty yards from my new front door.

Inside the cabin, I stood on the cold stone floor and wondered what the hell I was thinking. I was struck by a fresh memory of the perils of dorm life and forced myself to feel at home. I wiped down the cabinets above the kitchen sink, which contained a sparse collection of dishware and an unopened bottle of bourbon. I pulled the bottle from the shelf and noticed a small square of folded paper attached to the neck. I unfolded the paper and read the note written in small block letters.

welcome to stonebridge. be careful.

I sat outside on a rickety chair and considered the message. Was it a warning or just a piece of advice? I drank half the bottle as I tried to decide. Then I crawled into bed and fell asleep.

Customer Reviews

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The Swallows: A Novel 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
JReppy 2 hours ago
This was a creepy good book. The story centers on Stonebridge Academy, a private prep school in Vermont. The arrival of Alex Witt, the new English literature (and much too her chagrin, creative writing) teacher coincides with efforts by senior Gemma Russo and fellow students to expose the incredibly exploitative and abusive behavior of a select group of male students towards the female students. Ms. Witt soon discovers that something inappropriate is going on and that most of the faculty have some knowledge, except for the clueless headmaster, Gregory Stinson. She attempts to assist Gemma, but she is limited in what she can discover and she has her own unpleasant history, strange occurrences, and visits from her parents (her father is a semi-famous author and her mother is the secret behind her father's success, but they are divorced and their relationship is contentious) to contend with. I don't want to discuss the plot too much, because the fun of the book is going along with the characters as they try to gain a full understanding of what the influential boys are doing (Gemma and some of the other female students, Ms. Witt), try to secretly assist the girls (Norman and Jonah), navigate the school dynamics (everyone), and exact revenge. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of Ms. Witt, Gemma Russo, Norman Crowley, and Finn Ford (another professor). The characters are creative and well-developed, all with flaws that impact the final tragic outcome. My favorite character is Linny; once you get to know her, it will not be hard to figure out why she is such an appealing character. This book is well worth the read. I received an uncorrected proof via NetGalley.
JReppy 2 hours ago
This was a creepy good book. The story centers on Stonebridge Academy, a private prep school in Vermont. The arrival of Alex Witt, the new English literature (and much too her chagrin, creative writing) teacher coincides with efforts by senior Gemma Russo and fellow students to expose the incredibly exploitative and abusive behavior of a select group of male students towards the female students. Ms. Witt soon discovers that something inappropriate is going on and that most of the faculty have some knowledge, except for the clueless headmaster, Gregory Stinson. She attempts to assist Gemma, but she is limited in what she can discover and she has her own unpleasant history, strange occurrences, and visits from her parents (her father is a semi-famous author and her mother is the secret behind her father's success, but they are divorced and their relationship is contentious) to contend with. I don't want to discuss the plot too much, because the fun of the book is going along with the characters as they try to gain a full understanding of what the influential boys are doing (Gemma and some of the other female students, Ms. Witt), try to secretly assist the girls (Norman and Jonah), navigate the school dynamics (everyone), and exact revenge. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of Ms. Witt, Gemma Russo, Norman Crowley, and Finn Ford (another professor). The characters are creative and well-developed, all with flaws that impact the final tragic outcome. My favorite character is Linny; once you get to know her, it will not be hard to figure out why she is such an appealing character. This book is well worth the read. I received an uncorrected proof via NetGalley.
SheTreadsSoftly 2 hours ago
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz is a recommended social drama set in 2009 at a New England prep school. Alexandra Witt joins the faculty as an English teacher at Stonebridge Academy. When Alex is assigned creative writing classes, she bulks, but takes it on after getting a few concessions she wants. In an assignment she asks students to answer several simple questions and turn then in anonymously. She knows this will mean some insight into her students and she also knows she will be able to figure out who turn in the papers. The papers result in some disturbing responses and Alex is determined to figure out how deeply entrenched the "boys will be boys" attitude is, who knows about it, and how long it has been going on at the school. As she points out, "Stonebridge may look like Green Gables, but it’s the Bada Bing Club for the preppy set." Starting at a new school is never easy, but Alex seems to be facing an unknown nemesis... or two. A student, Gemma Russo, is determined to fight back against the boys, and the online Darkroom where they humiliate the girls, rate them, and score a secret competition between them. She's been planning her attack for years, but now she's gaining allies, including a first-year student named Linny, and discreet help from Alex. Gemma and her allies are planning to end the misogynistic culture prevalent at Stonebridge. This is a well written social drama that captures the long pervasive attitude that sparked the "MeToo" movement. It really isn't a mystery, as the mystery part of the drama isn't really a mystery at all. It is easy to figure out where the plot is going and what the end game will likely entail. The narrative is told through multiple points-of-view, both teachers and students. The boarding school setting and the narrative through several students point-of-view, gives The Swallows a YA feel, although perhaps targeting an older YA audience. There is a chart Alex writes, and then her mom edits, that is a wonderful addition to the book and should be shared. The main female characters are complex and well developed, however many of the male characters are more simplistic caricatures of badly-behaving males and thus less realistic. There is also a small handful of students and teachers in the novel when there are surely more teachers and students around. It was also stretching believably that the secret would be kept by so many students and that the teachers would be allowing the boys to do what they were doing. The Swallows isn't quite as good as Lutz's The Passenger, but would be better enjoyed by an older YA audience. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.
EllieBarrett 6 hours ago
It took me a while to get into this book by Lisa Lutz. I loved the Passenger which kept me on the edge of my chair. This book seemed to slowly gather steam, but once it did, I could not put it down. Campus sex isn’t steamy in this book, it’s downright evil and disgusting, but no spoilers here. Ms. Lutz writes in a prolific style, and I loved the short chapters. Get yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, not mulled, and dig in to this story. Thank you to Random House Publishing and NetGalley for the perusal. I thought this book was interesting, frightening, and realistic regarding this very real subject. #metoo
Anonymous 7 hours ago
I really liked that this book not only made a statement, but told a story. I liked that the book was told from different pov's that help mesh the book into cohesiveness. This boarding school is in shambles and the students must fight for their rights. I like that the teacher is a strong character and that she helps assist in righting the wrongs of the school. I would love to read more from this author and will be recommending to others.
TuggleGrassBlues 1 days ago
The Swallows Book Review | 1/2 3.5/5 Lisa Lutz (author) | Ballantine (Random House) Books The Swallows is a book about a high school prep school with a secret society, a badass teacher whose past troubles follow, and a growing group of renegade students. What could possibly go wrong? Why I was interested in this book: I read a lot of grit lit and literature with social messages. I needed something that sounded like it was a bit underground, a bit wild, a bit extreme. My assessment: Ready for a wild trip riddled with high schoolers being high schoolers, quirky faculty and a secret that could ruin the academy if exposed? I needed to read a book like this. Biting situations, academy faculty behaving almost as bad as their students, and a wee bit of sex. Ok, more than a wee bit. But it’s ok. You can handle it. This is the first book I’ve read by Lisa Lutz, and I’m intrigued to read more. Stories of the human condition: Well, this book addresses some social issues: peer pressure, rampant sexual activity amid a high school academy, elitism & privilege – for both the students and the faculty. The issues could frighten a parent, but the dark-yet-light writing makes it a page-turner. Why do kids have to grow up so quickly these days? Note: Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book through NetGalleydotcom in exchange for an honest review. I chose to read this book because I thought the blurb was intriguing. I was not disappointed. Other reviews: tugglegrassblues.wordpress.com TAGS: #TheSwallows #review-book #book review #LisaLutz #Ballentine Books #NetGalley #TuggleGrassBlues #Tuggle Grass Reviews #TuggleGrassReviews
Steve Aberle 3 days ago
I am always looking for a great novel set in academia. And The Swallows by Lisa Lutz fits the bill. The Swallows is funny, witty, and full of unpredictability, which makes it a pleasure to experience. Told by numerous narrators the book moves quickly. Alex is a newly arrived English teacher who really does not like her chosen profession. She is out of touch with her teen students buy does not seem to care all that much. We meet Gemma, an academically gifted student, who introduces Alex to the school culture, much of it abhorrent to Alex. The Swallows reminds me of why I love books set in an academic environment. Schools are in and of themselves artificial, but the people are wholly real and full of life’s surprises.
labmom55 3 days ago
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.
bookluvr35SL 4 days ago
Alex Witt joins the faculty at Stonebridge Academy, hoping to put her previous teaching job behind her. When her first creative writing assignment generates some disturbing responses from her students, Alex starts digging to get to the answers. Alex soon uncovers something called "the ten", the top ten of each classes’s social hierarchy—and their connection to something called the Darkroom. She begins to inspire the girls who’ve started to tire of the boys' attitudes and incites a resistance. But just as the movement is gaining momentum, Alex attracts the attention of an unknown enemy who knows a little too much about her—and what brought her to Stonebridge in the first place. There was lots to love about this book. I especially loved the strong female protagonist. She was quirky and authentic and didn't put up with anything. I loved how each chapter was told in turns by the different students and teachers. I loved that there were a couple of shockers in there too. I think you will really enjoy this.
Anonymous 4 days ago
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz reveals yet another aspect of the author's excellent writing ability. She has shown her ability to write humor (The Spellman Files) and a thriller (The Passenger) and now a mystery set in a preppy boarding schools in which the students call the shots, utilizing several first person narrators. The narration itself is very engaging, each of the characters is believable and is written with depth. I also like the pace of the plot, in some instances a character will retell part of the story to provide another perspective, and in other, the plot jumps ahead, and this keeps the reader guessing. The unique aspect of this book is that the author, in my opinion, does great justice to the teenage characters. They are flawed individuals, with backgrounds that make their actions in this novel believable. Too many depictions of teenagers outside of YA novels depend solely on stereotypes, but I didn't find that to be the case in this book. Although I was hoping for more of a shock at the ending, the book does come to a natural conclusion and I enjoyed this very much. Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for an advance copy in return for an honest review.
Anonymous 4 days ago
An unpleasant incident, which results in her reputation as a faculty member damaged, leads to Alexandra Witt accepting a teaching position at Stonebridge Academy. Persuaded into teaching creative writing, a subject she was not prepared to teach, Alex gives what she believes to be a harmless and anonymous "ice breaker" assignment. The responses lead to a disturbing insight into her students and their connection to something known as the Darkroom. Alex begins to uncover a mysterious and disturbing ranking system which faculty members seem to ignore. Attempting to help she finds herself pulled into a gender war in which the revenge plots become increasingly dangerous and potentially fatal. The Swallows offers mystery, suspense, and dark humor as it explores a group of high school students (and faculty members) who are involved in a secret online forum, which among other things, scores girls on their ability to perform oral sex. The winner receives the highest award of Dulcinea at the end of the year. As you can imagine after discovering what this novel was about; the title takes on a whole new meaning. Alex, still traumatized from a mysterious event at her last school, attempts to help Gemma, one of her students, who is trying to shut the forum down for good resulting in an all-out war between genders. The novel slowly exposes the true nature of each character; revealing secrets and disclosing true friend from foe in the end. This novel covers some important and uncomfortable topics, often with dark humor, that may not appeal to all readers. Overall I found it interesting, entertaining, and even amusing at times and recommend it for readers not sensitive to topics of a sexual nature.
Nanna51 4 days ago
I really enjoyed the author’s Spellman books, so I decided from the beginning that I would probably enjoy this one. Not so fast! This book had a plot that was supposed to be mysterious but that was easy to figure out. It had way too many characters, with only a few of them well-developed. This book infuriated me with the foul language and the adult content since the book itself seemed to be directed towards a young adult audience. I would NOT recommend that my teen-aged grandchildren read this book. The premise of the book is that a new teacher, Alexandra Witt, appears at a third rate boarding school named Stonebridge. Through her creative writing class, Alex discovers that the school has a social ladder called The Ten and a place called “The Darkroom” that is not a good place to be since many of her students named it as a place that they hated in their assignment. Once Alex finds out that there is something definitely going on that is wrong at the school, she investigates and ends up being threatened herself. There are no real secrets in the book but it was an okay read. The ending was very melodramatic but not unexpected. All in all, I was disappointed in this book, but I look forward to more of the author’s books since she normally entertains me with her writing. This novel, however, just was not for me, although it may appeal to those who enjoy this kind of slow suspense. Disclaimer Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
jdowell 4 days ago
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.
Alfoster 5 days ago
Once again a setting in a private school so I knew I would love it! Ms. Witt joins the faculty in this secluded area hoping to find solace from her past but is quickly thrown into a perverse and twisted 'game" the boys play by setting up the girls and then rating them on a hidden website. Senior Gemma is determined to put an end to this practice but of course needs help to bring the boys down. It was an enjoyable yet sinister read that felt all too real. Told from multiple perspectives, it was sometimes hard to follow and remember which students I "liked," but overall, I really loved the twists and turns. Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!
Anonymous 5 days ago
An "us vs them" story set in a private school that takes us into the middle of the conflicts roiling through the student body. A new teacher with her own secrets to protect, shows support as it becomes very clear that students are NOT treated equally. Lisa Lutz has taken a student protest background and amped it up to give us a story that will pull you in and keep you reading long after bedtime. As the tension rises between the two sides, each of the central characters must make decisions that will have far reaching consequences. A really great book that I'll definitely recommend to my reading circle.
calidoc2019 5 days ago
First off, thank you to NetGalley, Ballantine Books, and Lisa Lutz for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. The Swallows is set at a boarding school where there is a longstanding tradition by the boys about sharing intimate acts on a website called The Darkroom. I liked how the female characters finally found their voice to stand up to the "boys will be boys" mentality, the denigration of women, and peer pressure - though it was very disturbing to me to think that websites and this mentality is probably more pervasive than we think. It was a fast read which I enjoyed, though I thought it got a bit far fetched at the end - though that didn't make me enjoy the book less.
jjthor 5 days ago
A different type of book for me but enjoyable. Took me a bit to get through it more of a dark twisted funny story. The characters are well thought out and kept my interest to see what the girls would actually do. Some of the topics involved made you actually think what if. All in all a good story to pass the time. will go back and try some other titles from this author.