A chance encounter with a swan sparks a series of events that result in Johnny playing the lead in a school ballet. His teacher wants him to live the role, and when feathers start sprouting on his chest, Johnny begins to understand his true potential. But will he be strong or brave enough to beat his bullies, take care of his brother, support his mother and find a place for himself among all the chaos that is prevailing in his life.
Of course by choosing to write on this topic, it can be assumed that part of Sheehan’s goal is to horrify readers. It is when people get uncomfortable and upset that they start seeking out ways to prevent situations, such as Johnny’s, from occurring again. Hopefully by spreading awareness, those who are experiencing such treatment will know that they are not alone, and more importantly, we as a society can work towards bringing an end to fear mongering.
With that being said, Swan Boy champions the underdog. Johnny may be pushed around, but he will not be held down for long. He is a smart and talented young man and he soon harnesses courage from unexpected places. While at times he feels as though he has lost everything, he still finds a silver lining through dance. As he learns new skills, the story becomes inspiring and uplifting, drowning out the negative people. Therefore, the book really is more about Johnny coming into his own strength, which is exactly what makes it so poignant.
Consequently, while the story could easily be very dark and depressing, it is not. The author’s writing style is quite poetic in many moments, mimicking the fluidity and grace of dance. This stylistic choice helps to keep the tone as light as possible with such a subject matter. Additionally, the characters are so incredibly lovable, especially Mojo, Johnny’s five year old brother. Though Mojo too is dealing with emotional turmoil, he is so full of life! He loves to draw and play and jump around. He has an incredibly sweet and trusting relationship with his older brother that is very endearing.
Overall, Swan Boy is uniquely written, full of personality, and politically charged. It has the power to heal individuals who have faced similar circumstances and to hopefully evoke change, especially in those who stand by passively without intervening. Swan Boy is the wakeup call many need, delivered in the nicest way possible.