Click here to read reviewer Marie Hashima Lofton's take on Swan Place.
Warm and delicate like a Southern breeze, Trobaugh returns to her Southern roots with Swan Place, a coming-of-age tale of familial hardships and triumphs that unfolds in a sleepy little town in Georgia. Despite the cloud of sad events, Swan Place allows glimmers of hope and contentment to break through, at the characters develop and grow.
At the heart of the story is Dove, a sensitive 14-year-old who loves her mother dearly and has a sense of responsibility beyond her years. Dove, along with two younger siblings (Molly and Little Ellis), is raised by her fun-loving "honky-tonking" Mamma who works as a hairdresser at home, and her simple, kind-hearted second husband. Despite the struggles to make ends meet in the small town, the family are close-knit and happy, and manage to instil respect and a sense of duty in their young daughter.
The story unravels with wistful delicacy, as Dove must overcome seemingly insurmountable struggles in the formative years of her childhood — the heartbreak of watching her once vibrant mother wither away with a terminal illness; assuming the household duties and the role of 'mother' to her two younger siblings; and the remarriage of her stepfather to Crystal, an inexperienced 17-year-old former bar dancer, a child herself in many ways.
After yet another family tragedy, Crystal, Dove, her younger sister Molly and little brother Ellis, are left to fend for themselves. Ridiculed at school and fearful of being separated from her siblings, Dove’s character is fortified by her friend Savannah, a caring teacher, and her loving aunts Bett and Mee. She also comes to discover that writing offers solace, as she pens stories and experiences in her journals and notebooks.
When little Molly’s dead-beat biological father returns, threatening to break apart the little family, Crystal and Dove’s only choice is to go into hiding with the children. They enlist the help of Dove’s Bible-thumping Aunt Bett and an interesting array of newfound friends, to assist in their escape. The girls ultimately find themselves in the keep of the gruff but loveable “Buzzard” – the housekeeper of an affluent estate hidden away on the outskirts of town, known as Swan Place. Buzzard and her fellow devout black women’s Christian group keep the girls safe and help them to bear up under trials.
A common thread throughout most of Trobaugh's books, Swan Place attests to the strength of love, familial relationships and spirituality and how, when combined, they can be a formidable foe in opposition to hopelessness, poverty and racism. It is a simple yet touching – and sometimes saccharine – account that will not be easily forgotten.