A teenager is left to live in a community of old people on an ocean-ravaged island.
A few months ago, 17-year-old Kid’s parents left her with her grandmother on Swan Island, off the coast of New Hampshire. They promised to return soon, but now her grandmother is dead and she hasn’t heard from her parents at all. To complicate matters, Swan Island is no ordinary place—it’s home to a group of elderly separatists (who call themselves Swans) who have left the real world (which they call “The Bad Place”) behind. They have chosen to age in peace with as little interaction with the outside world, especially young people, as possible. Kid spends her days re-creating her neighbor’s past: retouching photos, rephrasing diary entries, and editing home videos. She spends her nights alone, listening to the violent waves crashing outside her window, except for the first Friday of every month, when Jason, her off-island nonboyfriend, visits. She describes him as “a period, something that happens to my vagina once a month.” The longer she stays, the less welcome she is among the Swans, but she’s afraid to leave in case her parents return for her. Jumping back and forth between the past and present, the novel sketches out Kid’s nomadic, lonely childhood. Butler’s writing is sensitive and sharp: “My skin tingles hard, like a violin string, like the surface of a drum,” and “All I want is a break from existing, something deeper than sleep.” Climate change beats in the background, as incessant as the ocean waves eating away at Swan Island. There’s a metaphor to be found in Kid’s obsession with the deteriorating island while the Swans remain unfazed. If there’s any fault, it’s that the novel wraps up a little too quickly, though it ends on a much-needed hopeful note.
A unique debut from a promising writer.