Following her brother’s death and her mother’s emotional breakdown, Laura now lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, in a lonely townhouse she shares with her old-world, strict, often querulous grandparents. But the arrangement may be temporary. The quiet, awkward teenager has been getting into trouble at home and has been expelled from her high school for throwing a record album at a popular girl who bullied her. When Christmas is over and the new year begins, Laura may find herself at boarding school in Montreal.
Nearly unmoored from reality through her panic and submerged grief, Laura is startled when a handsome swan boy with only one wing lands on her roof. Hiding him from her ever-bickering grandparents, Laura tries to build the swan boy a wing so he can fly home. But the task is too difficult to accomplish herself. Little does Laura know that her struggle to find help for her new friend parallels that of her grandparents, who are desperate for a distant relative’s financial aid to save the family store.
As he explores themes of class, isolation, family, and the dangerous yearning to be saved by a power greater than ourselves, Gregory Maguire conjures a haunting, beautiful tale of magical realism that illuminates one young woman’s heartbreak and hope as she begins the inevitable journey to adulthood.
What I Thought:
I think by now that Gregory Maguire is acknowledged as the master of retellings – as I’m sure is the case with many people, I was introduced to his work by Wicked after loving the musical but that book is so different to the show, with much, much greater depth than what you see on stage. The book also uses fantasy to explore important and pertinent issues in modern life woven into the story in twisty and creative ways.
So on to A Wild Winter Swan – a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans. In case you’re not familiar, the story tells of a girl whose brothers are turned into swans until she can weave moonlight into garments, and cover them, to turn them back. She is not quite able to turn them all back, so one brother is destined to go through life with one swan wing.
In this story, social misfit Laura finds the swan boy crashed on her roof one snowy night and has to help him go free, while she is also struggling to find her own place in a world where she is the weird girl with no social connections. In helping the boy, can she find help and friendship in unexpected places?
Once again, the fantastical elements of the story are rooted in the real world – this time 1960s New York – as Laura deals with personal tragedy with little support from her hard-working grandparents. Is she still part of a family when so many of the family are no longer there? Is the swan boy still part of his family when he is alone, and still part-swan?
I think this story is going to be one of my go-to Christmas re-reads – it has such a warm, Christmassy feeling, despite the sadness and grief that runs through the Ciardi household and Laura herself, as the wintery scene is so vividly captured in the falling snow and city slush.
I’m reminded by this book that I must make more time for Gregory Maguire’s books – his writing has such a sense of poetry to it, even when capturing the modern. He even manages to turn a slushy, city street into something beautiful!
Although the book is a retelling of The Wild Swans, it hints at it, rather than absorbing full elements of that story into it. Using it as an exploration of grief and the experience of immigrant families is much more the basis of the novel, which I think comes across very well.
A Wild Winter Swan is published by HarperCollins.
About the Author
Gregory Maguire received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Tufts University, and his B.A. from the State University of New York at Albany. He was a professor and co-director at the Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature from 1979-1985. In 1987 he co-founded Children’s Literature New England. He still serves as co-director of CLNE, although that organization has announced its intention to close after its 2006 institute.
The bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Lost, Mirror Mirror, and the Wicked Years, a series that includes Wicked, Son of a Witch, and A Lion Among Men. Wicked, now a beloved classic, is the basis for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad.
He has three adopted children and is married to painter Andy Newman. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.
This post is part of a blog tour celebrating A Wild Winter Swan. For more reviews and exclusive content, check out the participating blogs below:
Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.