Review: Swimming in the Moon by Pamela Schoenewaldt

I’m excited to be a part of the blog tour for Pamela Schoenewaldt’s Swimming in the Moon. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for supplying me with a review copy. This tour began September 3 and finishes up September 23; be sure to check out the complete tour schedule and read the reviews posted on other stops for other perspectives!

Title: Swimming in the Moon
Author: Pamela Schoenewaldt
Publisher: William Morrow
Released: September 3, 2013
Source: publisher (TLC Book Tours)

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Lucia D’Angelo’s voice is nothing like her mother’s. She’s no nightingale with the gorgeous tones, tender and passionate, peaking and plummeting as dramatically as her moods. Yet in the rough world she’s chosen, Lucia’s words may truly change lives.

In 1904, fourteen-year-old Lucia and her young mother Teresa are servants in a count’s lush villa on the Bay of Naples. Between scrubbing floors and polishing silver, Teresa soothes the unhappy countess with song until one morning’s calamity hurls mother and daughter to America, exchanging their gilded cage for icy winds off Lake Erie and Cleveland’s taut immigrant neighborhoods. Lucia blossoms and Teresa wins fleeting fame on the tawdry stage of vaudeville until old demons threaten their new life. In factories and workhouses, Lucia finds her own stage, giving voice to those who have given her a home. As roles reverse, mother and daughter reshape their fierce and primal bond.

In the past, historical fiction hasn’t been a genre I actively seek out. Swimming in the Moon is exactly the kind of novel that is changing that for me. History is told as a natural part of the story thanks to vivid settings and interesting, relatable characters.

This novel is chock full of topics: an immigrant story, coming of age, poverty, women’s rights, the way mental illness was treated at the turn of the 20th century, labor unions and workers rights. I read Swimming in the Moon over Labor Day weekend, not knowing that a huge chunk of the story would focus on the struggle for worker’s rights. Its insights and the empathy fostered by the story gave me a new appreciation for the holiday.

I loved the writing in the beginning of the book, during Lucia and Teresa’s time in Naples. The prose was just lovely, the kind of writing that catches your breath. Once Lucia and Teresa came to America, though, it started to read more like a young adult novel. I’m not sure if this was due to the first person narrative, or because the book covered so much that it couldn’t help but hurry along. This wasn’t necessarily a bad shift; it certainly made for a page turner! But I kind of missed the slower-paced beauty of those opening chapters.

Swimming in the Moon is rich, its scope ambitious. I connected with the characters and loved learning more about life in the very early 1900’s. This is a great choice for reading groups – there is much that encourages further discussion.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.