Swan Song is about a boy called Dylan who is permanently excluded from school after hitting another pupil. Everything had changed since he got into grammar school, and a few weeks into year 8 it’s over. Dylan’s mum has to make a difficult choice, she can’t hold down a job AND home school her son. Tensions run high.
Reluctantly, she feels her only option is to live with her father in Wales. And their relationship hasn’t been on the best of terms for years.
Dylan adjusts to his new life in a small town by the sea, where everyone seems to know all about him. Taken under his grandad’s wing, Dylan goes out on his grandad’s boat and learns about the sea and the migrating swans. But when grandad becomes ill and the swans’ habitat is under threat, Dylan can no longer say that he doesn’t want to do anything.
What struck me so powerfully was the sense of freedom running through its pages. And it’s with this that Gill Lewis weaves together a story of personal growth, family, and healing wrapped up in nature. So cosy is this grouping, the story feels genuine and bursts with emotion.
The step up to secondary school is a running leap for some. To say it’s not easy for Dylan is an understatement. He finds himself trapped, in school and in negative thoughts. Something many readers will relate to.
He doesn’t realise it at first, but he begins his process of healing when he meets his grandad. This is also when he starts to find his freedom and purpose. From steering his grandad’s boat to saving the swans, Dylan starts to make a difference and finds somewhere he belongs.
Freedom isn’t just being outside. It’s making better decisions and choosing to make up for bad ones. Releasing yourself from negative thinking and finding a purpose. It’s about healing relationships and starting new ones. About changing things for the better, but accepting the past. It’s about celebrating happy memories.
Freedom is also choosing to start learning again, which is what Dylan does, albeit in a different setting, but one that’s right for him.
Although Dylan is in year 8, many readers from UKS2 to KS3 will find solidarity and comfort in his struggles and growth. Swan Song is accessible for less confident readers in higher year groups, and is a beacon of hope for anyone feeling trapped.
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