Wednesday 27 March 2024

Swanna In Love by Jennifer Belle #SwannaInLove #JenniferBelle @DeadInkBooks #BookReview


It's the summer of 1982 and fourteen-year-old Swanna Swain is the only one left at camp. 

The place is a ghost town by the time her mother Val finally shows up six hours late-stoned and radiant-in a Ford pickup driven by Borislav, her new young Russian lover. 

Assuming she is headed home to her air-conditioned Upper West Side apartment, Swanna and her lovable younger brother Madding are instead dragged to Vermont-to an artist colony where kids are not welcome and they are forced to sleep in the back of the truck, while Val is cozy inside the house with the Russian. 

Then Swanna meets Dennis, a handsome married father of two, at a bowling alley, and, knowing a thing or two about seduction from Judy Blume, her best friend at camp, and her own parents' many affairs, she sets out to convince Dennis to help her. 

But love seldom obeys rules, and even a tough, smart, city girl like Swanna might not be able to handle falling in love. 

Best-selling novelist Jennifer Belle returns with a kind of inverse Lolita that explores adolescent desire from the girl's point of view. 

In turns hilarious and wildly shocking, Swanna in Love will keep your feathers ruffled and the pages gliding by.

Swanna In Love by Jennifer Belle was published on 14 March 2024 by Dead Ink. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

I've not read any of Jennifer Belle's previous novels, but know that she's had lots of success with them. The premise of Swanna in Love intrigued me and I was hooked from the opening pages. 

Fourteen year old Swanna comes from a pretty dysfunctional family. Her parents are wealthy, she lives in a good area of New York, they own an original Warhol, and eat in the best places. Swanna's life has been a mix of meeting the rich and famous, but also desperately looking for attention. Swanna and her brother Madding have spent the summer at camp and it's time to go home. Swanna is happily settled on the bus, expecting to return to New York, and school when she is hauled off and told that her mother is going to collect her. 

Swanna's parents have recently separated and she's finding that difficult to come to terms with. When, six hours later, her mother arrives to collect her, in a truck driven by her new Russian boyfriend, Swanna is appalled. They go on to collect Madding from his camp and eventually end up in an artist's colony in Vermont. Children are not allowed, Swanna and Madding must sleep in the truck. 

And then she meets Dennis, a married, father of two in his thirties and there's an instant connection. Swanna's life takes an unexpected turn and this novel deals bluntly with the issues.

This is not the story you'd imagine, it's not an older man preying on a young girl. This relationship is entirely led by Swanna. She's a girl who knows too much, but is still far too young. There are explicit scenes that could never be called romantic, in fact, they are sordid and shocking, yet Swanna is 'in love'.
Of course, Dennis is the adult, and it is his responsibility at the end of the day to ensure that what happens doesn't happen, but he's also weak and feels neglected by his wife. He knows that they are doing is wrong, he hides from neighbours, friends and people in the community, but he does not stop.

Swanna is an interesting character. She's very intelligent, yet fails at school. She's loyal and protective towards her young brother, yet seems to hate her parents. She's privileged, yet neglected.  She's loving, but unloved. She's a girl with raging hormones, a girl who thinks she is in charge, but deep down, she just wants affection. She's read the books, and the newspaper columns, she's seen how her mother acts, she knows how to attract people, how to flirt, how to appear sexy and older than she is and she uses these talents to the highest level. 

The publishers call this 'a kind of inverse Lolita', and I think that's probably the perfect description. As a 50 something woman, the content disturbed me, but I am very impressed with the writing and the author's ability to get into the mind of a damaged fourteen-year-old girl. 

A book to debate and discuss. Recommended. 

Jennifer Belle burst onto the literary scene with her critically-acclaimed debut novel Going Down, which was translated into many languages and optioned for the screen, first by Madonna, for whom she wrote the screenplay, and currently by Das Films. 

Belle was named Best New Novelist by Entertainment Weekly, profiled in New York Magazine and People, and compared to Dorothy Parker, Lorrie Moore, and J.D. Salinger. 

Her second equally-praised novel, the national bestseller High Maintenance, took on the cutthroat world of Manhattan real estate, and was also optioned for film and television. In 2007, Belle published her third novel Little Stalker, another sharp and funny look at life in New York City.

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