Review: The Swallow by Charis Cotter

Author: Charis Cotter
Title: The Swallow: A Ghost Story
Format/Source: eBook/Netgalley
Published: September 2014
Publisher: Tundra Books
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Middle grade ghost story
Why I Read: Intriguing premise, cute cover
Read If You’re: Looking for a good ghost story, or a story about friendship
Rating:  ★★★★ [ratings guide]
GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon 
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Publisher’s description: In 1960s Toronto, two girls retreat to their attics to escape the loneliness and isolation of their lives. Polly lives in a house bursting at the seams with people, while Rose is often left alone by her busy parents. Polly is a down-to-earth dreamer with a wild imagination and an obsession with ghosts; Rose is a quiet, ethereal waif with a sharp tongue. Despite their differences, both girls spend their days feeling invisible and seek solace in books and the cozy confines of their respective attics. But soon they discover they aren’t alone–they’re actually neighbors, sharing a wall. They develop an unlikely friendship, and Polly is ecstatic to learn that Rose can actually see and talk to ghosts. Maybe she will finally see one too! But is there more to Rose than it seems? Why does no one ever talk to her? And why does she look so… ghostly? When the girls find a tombstone with Rose’s name on it in the cemetery and encounter an angry spirit in her house who seems intent on hurting Polly, they have to unravel the mystery of Rose and her strange family… before it’s too late.

Recently, I read Doll Bones. I was most looking forward to the creepy aspect of that book, but the ghost story line seemed to fall by the side in favour of the friendship/growing up story line. Happily, The Swallow satisfied my desire for an eerie middle grade read, striking just the right balance between belonging and friendship, and ghostly terror. A handful of frightening scenes made me anxious while reading this book in the dark before bed! But the fright is not prolonged or overwhelming. There are humorous scenes that do not detract from the creepy of the story, but add to the realistic portrayal of a budding friendship between two young girls. The scene in which they meet for the first time is a particularly good example of this. I enjoyed the focus on the relationships between the two girls and their respective families. I liked that the ghost story is integral to their own lives, and not part of some outside adventure like in Doll Bones. I was surprised to find some emotional parts in this book well – I actually teared up! The story of searching for belonging at that age is one I think many children might relate to.

The story is written in first person, with chapters alternating between Polly and Rose. Some may find such a narration confusing, especially given the short chapters, but I thought the transitions felt seamless and comfortable. I appreciate this sort of narrative because I think it gives you a better understanding of a character than if you learn about them solely through a third or first person perspective. In The Swallow particularly, this style keeps the reader on their toes about whether Rose is a ghost.

Please Note: The next paragraph discusses the conclusion of The Swallow. Skip to The Bottom Line to avoid.

The twist!! There is a twist, and I didn’t expect it at all. I assumed the setting of the 1960s was for atmospheric purposes, so when the timing became significant to the plot I thought “Doh!” I was totally prepared for the main drive of the story being the conclusion of whether Rose is a ghost. So, when a twist came, I was very pleased that it was not over the top (i.e., preceding by heavy foreshadowing and anticipation that something was going to happen), and that it really came as a surprise to me. It was hinted at shortly before the reveal, so I did guess, but I believe you were meant to – it wasn’t dragged out for very long and while the actual revelation was still a surprise, I was excited to read it and I exclaimed “OH OH YES VERY GOOD!!” Well done, Ms. Cotter. I do have one criticism about the conclusion, however. There is no resolution between Polly and her brothers. There’s a moment where they mention they feel like her death was their fault, drawing a clear parallel between how Willie felt about Winnie. I think some sort of farewell between the three of them before Polly moved on would have been appropriate.


The Bottom Line: A great debut novel that will grab your attention from the start, The Swallow provides equal enjoyment for those looking for a good tale about belonging and friendship, or for those looking for a spooky ghost story.

Further Reading: 

A to Z Bookish Survey

I’ve decided to kick off posting again with this survey created by Jamie @ Perpetual Page Turner, which I found via Adam @ Roof Beam Reader.

  • Author You’ve Read the Most Books From
    • Lemony Snicket – he’s an easy winner, having penned a 13 book series. I’ve read 17 books by Snicket.
  • Best Sequel Ever
    •  Inkspell by Cornelia Funke (book two in the Inkworld trilogy) – I adored the first book but love this one even more. My favourite novel by Funke.
  • Currently Reading
  • Drink of Choice While Reading
    • Hot chocolate or Coke
  • E-reader or Physical Book
    • Physical book! Though, now I’ve moved overseas and will have to start relying on e-books… I don’t mind reading non-fiction, YA, or comics on an e-reader because they feel like they fit the medium, but heaven forbid I have to read Tolkien digitally.
  • Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Eventually Dated in High School
    •  Tough question – I don’t think there’s any! There’s never been a character I thought I would have dated, let alone one I even had a crush on.
  • Glad You Gave This Book a Chance
    • The Great Gatsby – I did not have to read it in school, but I knew many people did and that it was the ‘great American novel’. I didn’t think such a book could be truly interesting to me, but vlogbrothers convinced me to finally give it a shot once I realized it was a small book. I read Gatsby for the first time in August 2012 and loved it!
  • Hidden Gem Book
    •  White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi – one of my all-time favourite books. I’m sometimes reluctant to share it, but if the description appeals to you definitely check it out. 
  • Important Moment in Your Reading Life
    • Finishing LotR for the first time. I fell in love with the story when I was 12 after seeing the films. I devoured The Hobbit and parts of LotR but it was a long time before I felt I ready to tackle the entire thing. Now I plan to read it once every year (finished the third read-through this year!)
  • Just Finished
  • Kinds of Books You Won’t Read
    • Books that have romance (esp. unhealthy romance or love triangles) front and center
    • Detective mysteries (nothing against them, just no interest)
    • There are probably more books you might suggest I read but that I would refuse, but it’s difficult to think of them off the top of my head.
  • Longest Book You’ve Read
    • 50th anniversary one-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings  – 1,178 pages
    • Since LotR is more commonly counted as three books, the next longest I’ve read is The History of the Hobbit by John D. Rateliff – 938 pages
    • The longest novel is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – 925 pages (I’m continually amazed I ever made it through this one =.=)
  • Major Book Hangover Because Of
    • The Lord of the Rings – you can read about the first time I finished the book here.
  • Number of Bookcases You Own
  • Shelfie taken during Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon (April 2014)
    • As I live at home with two parents and a sibling, I only technically own the one bookshelf in my room. But, I’ve taken over the bookshelf in the upstairs hallway and the bookshelf in the den. 
  • One Book You Have Read Multiple Times
    • The Hobbit – I’ve read it at least once every year since my first reading 11 years ago.
  • Preferred Place to Read
    • My reading corner by the window in my room. This space will be sorely missed while in Japan!
  • Quote that Inspires You/Gives You All the Feels from a Book You’ve Read
    • Gosh, I’m not really a quote collector, as odd as that sounds…I always write down passages in books but I’ve never had one that really really stuck to me, or that inspires me. One extremely moving quote that comes to mind, though, is Frodo speaking to Sam near the end of Lord of the Rings: “‘Poor Sam! It will feel like that, I am afraid,’ said Frodo. ‘But you will be healed. You were meant to be solid and whole, and you will be.'”
  • Reading Regret
    • Hm, I don’t really have too much reading regret. Sometimes I regret not reading a great-sounding book right when it’s released (has Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstoree really been out for two years already?!) but I’m always reading something so I don’t mind too much. Not finishing LotR at speed this year is also a bit of a regret, but I hate having the story end!
  • Series You Started and Need to Finish
    • None (I rarely read series. Two I am reading currently are ongoing – Unwind dystology by Neal Shusterman and Fairyland by Cahterynne M. Valente)
  • Three of Your All-Time Favourite Books
  • Unapologetic Fangirl For
    • Tolkien (surprise, surprise ;))
  • Very Excited for This Release More Than All the Others
    • Undivided by Neal Shusterman (October 2014), the final book in the Unwind dystology. I never expected more than one book set in the Unwind universe (I think Unwind was originally meant to stand alone) but each book has totally blown me away, no disappointments here.
  • Worst Bookish Habit
    • Probably signing out lots of library books, only reading a few, then renewing the other (sometimes for months!) only to return them without reading. Also, for someone who likes to keep her books as pristine as possible (I want them to have long lives), I sometimes take big risks with them while bathing or eating.
  • X Marks the Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book
  • Your Latest Book Purchase

  • ZZZ-Snatcher Book (last book that kept you up WAY late)

Please let me know in the comments if you do this survey!

    Upcoming Reading

    September is here! I’ve already got some posts lined up.  I only finished two books in August, but I started a third yesterday that I’m blazing through. The list of books I want to start reading in the next month or two is getting a bit of hand, so I thought I’d make a blog post to keep track and show you what’s in store now that I’ve settled in a bit. These are all ebooks that I own.

    • The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charris Cotter- Everything in this book’s description appealed to me! The cover is cute as well. I started yesterday and I will probably finish it today.
    • July Crisis: The World’s Descent Into War, Summer1914 by Thomas Otte – This is a hefty book but it sounds like a really informative read.
    • The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson – This is the book I won during the Summer Library Reading Challenge.
    • The Reflections of Queen Snow White by David Meredith – I’ve had this one for awhile, just need to get around to it.
    • Stripped: The True Story of Depeche Mode by Jonathan Miller – I’ve only read this book cover to cover once, maybe three or four years ago. I’m even more of a DM fan now and I really want to read it again so I picked up a digital copy to read here.
    • Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die  – I’ve joined a book club for the first time here because I think it will be a good way to socialize. I’ve never been interested in book clubs because I’m picky about what I read, but this book looks okay. 
    • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami – The new Murakami book, available in English as of August! It’s sitting on my iPad, patiently waiting to be opened…
    • Blood & Gold (The Ferryman and the Flame 2.5) by Rhiannon Paille – I’ve finished book two and am ready for this in-between-er.
    • The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien – I really need to start this one, but I want to give it my full attention. I don’t want to rush through it or read it when I’m distracted by living in Japan. You only get one chance to read a book for the first time; I want to do it properly! 😛 It may be a little while yet…

    What’s on your reading list?