Nestled beneath this assuming book cover, waiting to be discovered by more readers, is one of literature’s great young heroines. Swan Lake (don’t laugh, she’ll beat you up,) the middle child of Samuel and Willadee Moses Lake. A spunky eleven year old hybrid of To Kill A Mockingbird’s Scout Finch and Will Tweedy of Cold Sassy Tree, Swan is the champion of the underdog. She observes and protects, lying and breaking rules if she deems it necessary. Where she inherited this fearlessness, no one quite knows, but it serves her and others well. She has no plans to change.
When Swan’s preacher daddy, Samuel, loses his congregation and must move the family in with his wife’s parents, the adventure begins. Along with her two brothers, Noble and Bienville, Swan explores the overgrown brush in their new Arkansas town, fighting imaginary injustice until the real thing comes along. It happens quickly, in the form of eight year old Blade Ballenger, a traumatized young boy who is at the constant mercy of his abusive father.
While Blade acclimates to being around a loving family–though not one without their own challenges–Swan tries to ingratiate herself with her mama’s brother, Uncle Toy. Toy is a quiet oak of a man, selfless to a fault and kinder than the credit he receives. As the summer progresses, everyone’s stories begin to intertwine, including that of Blade’s vengeful daddy and Toy’s wife with the wandering eye.
I’m not overstating when I say The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Author Jenny Wingfield does everything right to make this story as good as the classics we know and love. It has a rhythm, colors, and smells. It has characters so distinct they feel like real people. It has an ending that reminds the reader of the world’s shades of gray. I hope this review encourages someone to read it. It’s a gem that deserves widespread recognition.
Trigger warnings: Suicide, domestic/child/animal abuse and child rape. With the exception of two short scenes that are slightly more graphic, these subjects are handled with care and used for character development.