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Swollen    by Melissa Lion order for
by Melissa Lion
Order:  USA  Can
Wendy Lamb Books, 2004 (2004)

* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Melissa Lion's debut novel Swollen is narrated by Samantha (Sam) Pallas. Sam is a 'gifted' member of her high school track team, not coming in first, nor last, but in the middle. She searches within her insecurities at school and at home 'to find a place in the world ... something or someone' to recognize her as an individual. Sam lives in San Diego with her Dad (a philanderer) and his pregnant girlfriend, Ruth (who is a base point for support). Mom left some time ago 'to find a different me' in Oakland, California.

Samantha and classmates are touched by tragedy, when star athlete, Owen Killgore, dies in his sleep, supposedly of a 'swollen' heart (attack), but some rumors tell a different story. A new boy enrolls in Sam's class, and within a short time, Samantha is absorbed by good-looking Farouk. Their relationship goes beyond just friendship, but it comes with a painful price. After Sam and Farouk are intimate for the first time, he travels on to other conquests. Even though Sam talks with her parents (one close by and one long distance), they are less supportive than she needs. Sam and best friend Chloe are there for each other, but Chloe has her own dysfunctional family, and consistently appears with new 'cuts' on her arm.

Melissa Lion was inspired to write Swollen by her own high school days, and by wondering what it would be like 'to be in the lead'. She writes with drama, and poetic prose, as when Sam says 'I watched the clouds pass and the thick marine layer move over the field. The ocean air was moist and soft on my arms ... I remembered when I was a kid and a girl told me that if I stood in a small room with the lights off and I breathed once, twice and then ran for the door and shut it quick enough behind me, my soul would stay inside that room waiting for me to open the door and take it back.' Touches of humor are included when Sam describes a location to Farouk - 'These are the midget houses ... The lawns in front of the houses sloped down, but from the street the houses just looked short, the front doors two-thirds normal size. The rumor is that all the munchkins moved here after they finished The Wizard of Oz.'

Swollen is an emotional story, and a mind opener, telling just enough about a character without divulging too much. There is little, if any, closure to some aspects - such as Owen's true reason for a heart attack, and Samantha's feelings resulting from lack of support - which creates an overhanging vagueness. Lion is a writer deserving of attention - fortunately her second novel Upstream is scheduled for Summer 2005.

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