Allison's Book Bag

Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor

Posted on: July 30, 2014

My husband and I sometimes talk about the trends and quirks in books for young people, based on the selections which I review. For example, adults are often absent, a trend we both sometimes wish was less often true. In contrast, Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor overflows with adults. Ironically, a quirk in books for young people is that none of the characters seem like your average youth, who are into cell phones, games, clothes, and the most current entertainment. This would be an apt statement about Sparrow Road, which may give it a more limited audience.

True, the main character is Sparrow Road is a twelve-year-old girl, but every other person in Raine’s life is an adult. That’s right. There is only ONE young person in this entire novel. As for those adults, they’re all an eclectic group of artists spending their summer at Sparrow Road. The owner Viktor seems to know Raine’s mother prior to hiring her for a job as housekeeper and cook. The artists call him “The Iceberg” with good reason, although even the hardest ice can melt given the right conditions. Then there is Lillian, who in her mind is living in the days when foster children used to inhabit the place. She also at times speaks of an unrequited romance. With his tropical shirts, Diego doesn’t much resemble Raine’s idea of an artist. Nonetheless, he’s adept at collecting what others considered junk and turning it into art. There’s also Josie, who wears patchwork outfits. The epitome of eccentric, Josie is who gives welcome basket to newcomers, convinces Viktor to invite outsiders to a party at Sparrow Road, and discovers a mystery about Sparrow Road. Then there’s Eleanor, who doesn’t like anyone. And receives the same amount of affection from the artists. Aside from this cast, there’s also a stranger who comes into Raine’s life to make things right with the family. I enjoyed seeing all their stories unveil, never once caring about anyone’s age, combined with the mutual respect exchanged between the young Raine and the older artists who all make up the fabric of Sparrow Road.

In the opening chapter, Raine feels like your average middle-school girl. She like television and radio, talking with her friends and family, and even eating Popsicles and candy. Her stay at Sparrow Road shows a different side. One of the rules at the artist retreat is that no one can talk until 5:00 except on Sundays. Initially, Raine only wants to return to Milwaukee, where she’s used to the song of sirens, noise of neighbors humming through the walls, and the roar of city traffic. She soon discovers Diego’s advice about how quiet can lead to daydreaming the making up stories isn’t as far-fetched as one might expect. And that she likes helping Lillian write poems. Then there’s the mystery of what happened to the orphans who used to live at Sparrow Road. Not to mention all those trips her mother makes to the nearby town, all the while refusing to let Raine join her. Now as I point out to my husband, there are lots of creative young people. Along with those who are into solving mysteries, something often more the territory of adults. His issue actually isn’t so much with a book featuring a character or two like this, but that these books tend to consist solely of these types of characters. Of course, Sparrow Road is largely made up of adults and so what can you expect? Well, I still think my husband has a point. Raine’s mom likes to play music. As does the stranger who comes into her life. The story is laden with creative folks. Myself being a writer, I adore this type of book. As I think of my students, however, I realize that I’m checking off the ones who wouldn’t. And the list is admittedly small.

Sparrow Road was a quick and delightful read. And I think at least the girls in my writing club students would enjoy it. Along with many of the advanced readers in the upper elementary classes in which I teach. For the right audience, Sparrow Road is a thought-provoking and well-written book.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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