#aww2020 · 2020 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge · 2020 Reviews · Australian · Book club · contemporary fiction · crime

POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020: Sheerwater by Leah Swann

pop sugar 2020 7 june

Today I am marking off my twenty first #21st checkpoint category for the POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020 with:

a book published the month of your birthday

Emotional, powerful, unforgettable. From a stunning new literary talent, you won’tsheerwater small be able to put down this novel about a mother’s love for her children – it will break your heart.

Ava and her two young sons, Max and Teddy, are driving to their new home in Sheerwater, hopeful of making a fresh start in a new town, although Ava can’t help but keep looking over her shoulder. They’re almost at their destination when they witness a shocking accident – a light plane crashing in the field next to the road. Ava stops to help, but when she gets back to the car, she realises that somehow, among the smoke, fire and confusion, her sons have gone missing …

From a substantial new Australian writing talent, Sheerwater is tense, emotional, unforgettable. Perfect for readers of Mark Brandi’s Wimmera and Stephanie Bishop’s The Other Side of the World, this is a beautifully written, propulsive, gut-wrenching and unputdownable novel – an aching, powerful story of the heroic acts we are capable of in the name of love.


‘Ava gazed out at the sea between the houses as they walked the short track to the township. Sheerwater. So far the sea was never sheer in this place. It was opaque, inky:  a set of wild indigo whirlpools from some brutal myth of creation. Everything here was extreme: the light and the dark and the savage wind that makes you shiver and wears you away.’

I can completely understand why March 2020 4th Estate publication, Sheerwater by Leah Swann has received such rave reviews. It is a one of kind, haunting, evocative and hard-hitting composition. This one left me a little breathless by the close and although I wasn’t completely satisfied by the conclusion that was offered up, I was completely in awe of Leah Swann’s beautiful, but raw set piece.

Sheerwater crosses the difficult waters of domestic and emotional abuse, as a mother strives to protect her brood. Ava and her two young sons are making the journey to a brand new life, away from the pain and emotional abuse of their father and Ava’s ex. However, on their way to new found freedom, a terrible but freak accident unfolds in front of their eyes. Ava is compelled to stop and help in the rescue effort, leaving her sons in the car. However, when Ava makes her way back to the car after rendering assistance, she is faced with every parent’s worst nightmare – her boys are missing. What follows is Ava’s heartbreaking search to recover her children as she battles both her ex and the authorities in order to be reunited with her sons.

Generally when I finish a book I like to form my review as soon as possible, while my response to the piece is still fresh in my mind. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I was unable to compose my review of Sheerwater until almost a week after I had read the last page of this book. I hope that despite the delay I can still do this book the justice is so rightly deserves. Sheerwater is a brilliant novel, a true literary feat. Swann has an elegant way with words. Her writing is expressive, perceptive,  refined and purposeful. The list could really go on, but I’m sure you have a good idea of how much I admired Swann’s writing style. If only I could have an inch of Swann’s skill!

Sheerwater unfolds in quite a short space of time, three days to be exact. There is a sense of urgency to this book and the reader is placed in the thick of it all from the get-go. The device of using multiple points of view to unravel this emotionally fraught tale was compelling. I was committed to Sheerwater from the opening page, the prose was simple spectacular, almost seducing you with its literary power. Gaining an insight from a mother, father, child and an outsider was an interesting but balanced approach, it really gives you a comprehensive picture of this harrowing story.

I immediately sympathised with Ava and I greatly admired her heroic act in attending to the plane crash at the opening on the novel. I became pretty fixated on this plane crash to be honest and I think I went off on a complete tangent thinking about the significance of this accident to the proceedings of the novel. In Laurence, we see an arrogant and manipulative man, who is clearly cruel and delusional. I detested this character and Swann ensures that Laurence is seen as the villain of the tale, along with another side character, an accomplice of sorts. I can’t talk about this side character for fear of entering spoiler territory, so my apologies if I sound vague. While Max’s point of view, the eldest child of Ava and Laurence, was on point. I have a boy who is the same age as Max, so I found his narration the most emotionally hard hitting. I think in some respects, Max was failed, especially by the authorities. This was one of the hardest aspects of reading Sheerwater.

With many stories of domestic and family abuse arising and so many more that we do not know about, I think the author has tapped into a pressing societal issue. The timing of Sheerwater’s presence is spot on and I do hope that this book paves the way for more stories based on home front issues to be circulated in the publishing world. Swann’s examination of emotional abuse, physical abuse, mental illness, marital breakdown, control and custody rights was sensitive, yet realistic.

Although I felt a little let down by the conclusion, which I had to read over again and check with a friend to see if I had missed something, Sheerwater left a huge imprint on my mind. Immediately after finishing this one I reached out to my book club friends, I’m glad it was our pick this month. There was definitely a sense of urgency in wanting to discuss this one, which I think is down to the power of this novel. I implore you to add Sheerwater to your reading list, it is a stunning release from a great new Australian talent.

***** 5 stars

Sheerwater by Leah Swann was published on 23rd March 2020 by 4th Estate AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Sheerwater, Leah Swann, visit here.

Sheerwater is book #64 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge

4 thoughts on “POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020: Sheerwater by Leah Swann

  1. Sounds like an excellent book for your birthday month category. Another book I’m keen to read thanks to your amazing review. I’m so far behind, this month seems to be going faster than last month if that is even possible lol. Now that all birthdays are over with I hope I can get stuck into more reading. I’m yet to find one published in the month of June.
    Ooh, Steven bought me a gorgeous non fiction book for my birthday. He heard it on ABC radio Nightlife when he was working nightshift. And, April bought me three true crime books and a Penny Vincenzi book from the Lions book shop which I’m looking forward to getting stuck into.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m really pleased this one could be slotted in to Pop Sugar. It actually wasn’t one I had earmarked for this category, but as I needed to read this one for book club, I decided to use it. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep using that strategy to stay on track for Pop Sugar lol! I think I’m going to the need the upcoming holidays to get ahead. I hope you managed to find a book for June. I would check your shelf and piles, I’m sure a book published in june will pop up if you check it against Goodreads. What lovely book gifts, it sounds like you have been very spoilt. Enjoy those!


      1. Perfect strategy to stay on track and you’re killing two birds with one stone so to speak lol.

        I think I’m going with City of Girls as it’s available to borrow through the Borrowbox app. I feel like such a cheat by listening to audiobooks for some of my Popsugar challenge books but at the moment it’s the only way I might be able to catch up. But I will check the books that are left over on the coffee table as one could be a June publication.

        Thanks I’m sure I will and yes very spoilt. Received lots of different things from April and Steven. I’m so peeved because I forgot to take a photo of all the pressies, lol.

        Fingers crossed you get lots of reading done in the next lot of holidays.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I loved City of Girls, so did everyone for my bookclub when I picked it for us last year. I’m keen to hear what you think of the narration. I think it is a case of doing what you need to in order to complete this challenge, it sure is tricky, especially as we enter the latter stages! Don’t feel bad, you are doing awesome!

        I’m really pleased to hear you had a great day, it looked lovely from the pics. Enjoy your gifts!!

        Yes I am hoping for a less heavy week this week, another wasted day Saturday with reports soccer and housework. I have a day off today so hopefully I can fit in some reading and reviewing! But I am desperately hanging out for the holidays, 3 weeks left. It’s been one of the toughest terms in my teaching career.


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