Review: The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

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★★

Ballantine Books | 2019

Opening Hook: Blow jobs weren’t on the curriculum.

Main Character: Good at flowcharts.

Plot Twisty-ness: Needs some spit on it.


This is a popular read with high ratings on Goodreads from other reviewers, but my overall opinion is basically WHAT THE FUCK THIS IS REALLY DUMB???

I don’t mind being one of only a few people going against the grain here, but honestly, I just can’t even with this book. I had to suspend disbelief in such an extreme way that I started to feel legit angry about it.

This was 400 pages about girls at a boarding school going all Sally Field-Norma Rae with shaved heads because they’ve somehow fallen into a secret game of giving blow jobs for points to all the popular boys at the school who have a yearly championship bracket.

All of the teaching staff knows kind of (the six of them running a school of hundreds of students,) but turn a blind eye because…I guess…rich parents? Or college admissions? Or reputation? Or whatever else rich people care about. Someone ask Lori Laughlin. I’m still a little fuzzy on why full-grown, educated adults dedicated to America’s youth would be all elbow patches and tweed, and please ignore our student sex ring.

I mean, there must have been a way to stop the abuse without putting “ran a blow job side-hustle his senior year” on school transcripts. Then again, maybe Yale would call it entrepreneurship.

While no one appreciates feminist themes with a #metoo movement vibe, more than I do, this feels like Lutz just never found her footing with those big themes and what I ended up reading was kind of ridiculous.

When new teacher, Alex Witt, gives the first assignment to her creative writing class, all of the ” I HATE BLOW JOBS” secret messages are revealed and Ms. Witt becomes very suspicious of the number of girls wishing for blow jobs to cease to exist, so she starts a little investigation. Soon, there are secret videos of her meant to be threats, footprints around her on-property cabin like she’s being stalked and all the other teachers are like, “Blow jobs? What blow job competition? Stop talking about blow jobs! What even are blow jobs? Girl, you are wild!”

And Ms. Witt is all…

unimpressed community GIF

Ms. Witt decides to lend her feminist expertise to the group of girls who have secretly mobilized to bring down the blow job nonsense. Witt even creates a handy flowchart for them about when/how you should give a blow job. She calls it a Blowchart (one star has been awarded in my review just for that,) and it basically goes: “DON’T GIVE BLOWJOBS UNLESS YOU WANT TO.”

And all the girls are like…

keanu reeves wow GIF

While I’ve never read Lisa Lutz before, I do know she is lauded for her darkly comedic writing voice so I kept waiting for this novel to turn into a satire, but it persisted in its desire to be a very serious novel that now I’m just confused. The plot is straight-up ridiculous; weird and nonsensical and requires so much suspension of disbelief that anything like this would ever happen that I couldn’t get into it.

And I really should have been able to because it feels like Lutz wanted to make an actual point about current sex culture and women’s sexual agency. We’re talking about underage girls and blackmail and the idea of nude pictures, misogyny, sexual coercion and manipulation basically between children, and yet nothing really comes of it. There’s no broader theme or point.

The adults are terrible morons without explanation, and the events all strung together don’t make a lot of sense. And that subplot with Witt’s father? Ugh. CUT. IT. OUT.

The girls at Stonebridge Academy have lived in such constant fear of the blow job ring for so long because if they expose the boys, the male revenge would be like so horrific the girls would never recover? Or what? So they just keep sucking undesirable dick and chopping down trees about it, never telling anyone for fear of nude pictures leaking…but that would literally be distribution of child porn in most cases. No adult is going to point that out?

There’s a computer wizard doing some serious work with secret servers and shit for the Blow Job Bandits so that they can keep their criminal enterprise secret forever! In fact, everyone has been keeping this blow job secret for YEARS, but then some new teacher gives the kids a random creative writing assignment and suddenly they’re all like, GOTTA GET AN A+ and reveal all the blow jobs!!

Then the girls are meeting in secret, plotting the blow job clubs’ demise like they’re the resistance in 1940s Nazi Germany. I just…

Schitts Creek Comedy GIF by CBC

From a purely technical standpoint, there are way too many characters in this book. It reaches critical levels for this reader. It was hard to keep track of who everyone was, who knew who, who had blown who and who knew what. And I fucking hate that shit.

Genre-wise, I don’t know why this is labelled as a mystery-thriller, but it’s not. Parts of it feel like a contemporary trying to make a serious point about patriarchy and feminism and sexual freedom, and then other parts feel like it’s written about teenagers for teenagers. The teenage characters didn’t resonate with me as a 30-something and I doubt the adult parts would resonate with a YA audience.

Honestly, I don’t know who this book is for, but judging by the number of stellar reviews it has, it doesn’t really matter what I think.

My second star is given purely because of the blow job scene with the hot peppers because that was fucking hilarious.

Otherwise, this is a pointless book for me. It didn’t make any points that would add to the feminist conversation in a meaningful way. The plot was full of logic holes to such a degree that I was developing a twitch in my left eye and it’s not the mystery/thriller it was marketed as.

So….*fart noises*

🔪🔪🔪


A new teacher at a New England prep school ignites a gender war–with deadly consequences–in a provocative novel from the bestselling author of The Passenger and the Spellman Files series.

What do you love? What do you hate? What do you want?

It starts with this simple writing prompt from Alex Witt, Stonebridge Academy’s new creative writing teacher. When the students’ answers raise disturbing questions of their own, Ms. Witt knows there’s more going on the school than the faculty wants to see. She soon learns about The Ten–the students at the top of the school’s social hierarchy–as well as their connection to something called The Darkroom.

Ms. Witt can’t remain a passive observer. She finds the few girls who’ve started to question the school’s “boys will be boys” attitude and incites a resistance that quickly becomes a movement. But just as it gains momentum, she also attracts the attention of an unknown enemy who knows a little too much about her–including what brought her to Stonebridge in the first place.

Meanwhile, Gemma, a defiant senior, has been plotting her attack for years, waiting for the right moment. Shy loner Norman hates his role in the Darkroom, but can’t find the courage to fight back until he makes an unlikely alliance. And then there’s Finn Ford, an English teacher with a shady reputation who keeps one eye on his literary ambitions and one on Ms. Witt.

As the school’s secrets begin to trickle out, a boys-versus-girls skirmish turns into an all-out war, with deeply personal–and potentially fatal–consequences for everyone involved. Lisa Lutz’s blistering, timely tale shows us what can happen when silence wins out over decency for too long–and why the scariest threat of all might be the idea that sooner or later, girls will be girls.

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