A 12-year-old girl who’s been mute since her mother’s death discovers and bonds with a family of swans and struggles to adjust to her new life.
Her mother’s partner, Ray, says her death was accidental. Rejecting his efforts to spare her, Dulcie knows her mother’s struggle with depression defeated her. Dulcie feels responsible—she died while Dulcie competed in the 1977 state spelling-bee finals. Ray takes Dulcie to live in rural Ohio with her mother’s estranged sister, Aunt Bernie, whose life revolves around Redeemer Baptist Church. Dulcie likes Rev. Love but loathes his youth group’s bullies. One day Dulcie follows a swan and discovers a hidden pond containing a swan’s nest with an adult pair and five cygnets, a secret known only to Reverend Love and Evangeline Tucker, the new choir director, who puts Dulcie and Faith, a homeless girl sheltered by the Loves, to work sewing choir robes. (The church plays a key role throughout.) Though Dulcie’s beliefs remain ambiguous, most adults are devout. Some are racist. The only nonwhite character, saintly African-American Evangeline, has individuality but also serves as a bias-detection device. Characterization skews blunt and schematic. Secondary characters such as Ray and his new girlfriend are more nuanced. The strongest moments bring the natural world and its creatures, feathered and human, to life through Dulcie’s observant eyes.
An intermittently compelling debut enhanced by its rural Midwest setting. (Historical fiction. 8-12)