He was different, so people thought anything they did to him was okay.
This was one of the strangest books I’ve ever loved.
Swine Hill is a haunted town, where the dead outnumber the living. Downtown is overrun by ghosts and the main employer is the Pig City meat packing plant.
Most of the people Jane went to school with escaped as soon as they could to start over, but she’s stuck in a dead end job in this dying town. She can’t imagine leaving her parents, younger brother or the ghost girl who’s been attached to her since she was a child.
Nothing will ever be the same for the living or the dead of Swine Hill when newcomers start working at Pig City.
This was a dark book, with so much loss, grief and violence experienced by the living and the dead, yet there’s also a thread of light that runs through it (quite literally at times), of hope and love. The best and worst of what it means to be human are represented here.
While I found each haunting interesting and consistently wanted to know more, I connected intellectually, not emotionally, with the majority of the characters. The person I really connected with was a pig boy called Dennis, who was more human than most of the characters who were born that way. His innocence, enthusiasm and ability to see beauty wherever he looked made me adore him. The world would be a much better place if we could all see it through Dennis’ eyes.
Besides the awesomeness that is Dennis, there’s also a girl who cannot lose, a mad scientist who makes the impossible out of junk, a woman who burns and a boy who freezes, a robot in love, an alien, alternate realities, and let’s not forget the rest of the pig people. There’s so much going on in this layered story that it shouldn’t work but somehow it did. I have no doubt that people a lot smarter than I am will write very eloquently about things I didn’t dig deep enough to even realise were there but this book made me think. A lot.
I thought about what it means to be human and how you don’t need to have a ghost to be haunted. I considered the impacts unfulfilled dreams have, not only on our own lives but also on our relationships with others and the wider community who are missing out on what we could be bringing into the world.
I was frustrated by my inability to come up with a genius plan to eradicate the fear of the other. I thought about how ghosts linger in our present and wondered whether it’s possible to ever truly escape the past. I reevaluated my ideas of responsibility and how it intersects with blame.
I thought about love, forgiveness and what I have to be thankful for. I wanted to dance. I wondered if I’ll ever be able to look at bacon the same way again.
I’m struggling to work out who I’d recommend this book to. I expect a lot of people are going to read this book and think, ‘What the hell am I reading?!’ but that’s not necessarily going to be a bad thing. I thought it (several times) but couldn’t put it down, even when I wanted to after a couple of scenes of fairly graphic violence.
Content warnings include racism, xenophobia, accidental death of a child, death of animals, violence, poverty, slavery, police brutality and murder.
I was left with a few unanswered questions but I don’t feel the frustration I usually would; instead I’m enjoying pondering the possibilities for myself. I spent most of the book wondering how this story could wind up in a way that I’d be okay with and, while I would never have guessed the ending, I’m satisfied.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and John Joseph Adams Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for the opportunity to read this book. I’m intrigued to see what this author comes up with next.
Once Upon a Blurb
Swine Hill was full of the dead. Their ghosts were thickest near the abandoned downtown, where so many of the town’s hopes had died generation by generation. They lingered in the places that mattered to them, and people avoided those streets, locked those doors, stopped going into those rooms … They could hurt you. Worse, they could change you.
Jane is haunted. Since she was a child, she has carried a ghost girl that feeds on the secrets and fears of everyone around her, whispering to Jane what they are thinking and feeling, even when she doesn’t want to know. Henry, Jane’s brother, is ridden by a genius ghost that forces him to build strange and dangerous machines. Their mother is possessed by a lonely spirit that burns anyone she touches. In Swine Hill, a place of defeat and depletion, there are more dead than living.
When new arrivals begin scoring precious jobs at the last factory in town, both the living and the dead are furious. This insult on the end of a long economic decline sparks a conflagration. Buffeted by rage on all sides, Jane must find a way to save her haunted family and escape the town before it kills them.