'Swan' is the story of Delia 'Duck' Dukes, a girl who escapes her small Texas town in the 1940s and 1950s, seeking to shed her reputation for being the ugly duckling in her family and escape an abusive stepfather. Although she moves to Chicago and pursues her goal of being a singer, she cannot seem to cut the ties to her inattentive mother and pretty, mean-spirited sister Merline. The novel follows Duck and Merline's lives as they take very different paths into adulthood. Merline works as a maid and raises a biracial daughter who eventually begins passing as white, and Duck finds success as a singer but fails at finding love. When their mother dies, Duck and Merline reunite for the first time in nearly thirty years, trying to find common ground between sisters whose lives have been so different.