Bestselling author Gregory Maguire has reimagined the magical worlds of Oz (Wicked), Snow White (Mirror, Mirror), and Wonderland (After Alice)—and now he takes us to 1960s New York with A Wild Winter Swan, transforming Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans” into a poignant coming-of-age story.
“All of the great city around her was engaged and alive, and Laura alone stood shoeless in the snow outside the warmly lit brownstones. The loneliness she felt was so keen it was almost elegant. It cut her.”
In the original fairy tale, the evil stepmother places a curse on seven brothers, transforming them into swans, and it’s up to their youngest sister to save them. She sews magical shirts to turn them back into humans, but isn’t able to finish the last one, leaving one brother with one swan wing.
Maguire’s retelling taps into the intensity of childhood isolation and longing. It’s Christmastime, though 15-year-old Laura Ciardi is not feeling particularly joyful or merry. She’s just been expelled from school after an incident, and now her old-fashioned Italian immigrant grandparents are planning to send her to boarding school in Montreal after the holidays. Laura has no friends, is bad at school, and seems unable to see anything positive in her life. It’s soon revealed that Laura lives with her grandparents because both her father and brother have died, and her mother suffered from an emotional breakdown soon after. (She bears a strong resemblance in this sense to A Wrinkle in Time’s Meg Murry, who also had to deal with the loss of her father.) Who wouldn’t feel the desire to fly away from all that?
“Nothing changed in New York City, except of course that everything changed a thousand times faster than one could ever notice.”
A fateful encounter with a handsome swan boy with only one wing, who crash lands on her roof one snowy night, turns out to be what Laura needs to finally break out of her shell and start living her life.
Don’t expect a full fantasy novel, but A Wild Winter Swan is a quiet, elegant read—a slice-of-life with a supernatural touch, peppered with richly detailed characters and astute observations about the immigrant experience, the value of friendship, and the meaning of family.