cover image SWAN PLACE


Augusta Trobaugh, . . Dutton, $22.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-525-94688-5

Trobaugh delivers another solid novel of smalltown life below the Mason-Dixon line (after Sophie and the Rising Sun). As in past fictions, Trobaugh's supreme skill is her command of character. Dove, her 14-year-old heroine, is younger than previous Trobaugh women but no less richly drawn. Life in the smalltown South throws a lot of hardships her way. The death of Dove's sweet and fun-loving Mama (who leaves their dry county to go "honky-tonking" with her husband every Saturday night) is followed by a rapid succession of upheavals—from her stepfather's grim car accident to a visit from her deadbeat father to revelations about her real parentage—that threaten to pull the plot toward schmaltzville. Dove refuses to crumble, taking care of herself and her younger siblings—and rescuing the story from melodrama. With touching dignity, she is determined to keep together her evolving family, which includes at various points not only her siblings but a stepmother young enough to be her sister, her stepmother's baby and a devoutly Christian aunt. Dove's perseverance is believable: she voices fears and insecurities while clinging to her pride, learning to accept the support offered by other women and awakening to the fulfillment that reading and writing can bring. Though her prose is a little syrupy in places, Trobaugh manages to make her characters both inspirational and down-to-earth. (Oct.)