Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor

When I saw that Sheila O'Connor was a professor at Hamline University where Gary Schmidt and Anne Ursu work I wondered if she would have strong characters like they do in their middle grade and young adult novels. She does. It is the main strength in this novel along with beautiful writing. The emotional arc of twelve-year-old Raine and the character development of secondary characters kept me going in this book. The plot was predictable and the action minimal, but the subplot had surprises and the ending was strong. Much of the tension is centered on adult issues and this will appeal to students who like realistic fiction that tug at emotions. The messages of missing people, addiction, abandonment, artistic creations, and dealing with conflict (between adults) make for good discussions.

Raine has come to Sparrow Road, an artists' retreat, with her mother for two months in the summer. Here mother is going to cook for the artists working on projects. Raine dreads coming and is mad at her mother for uprooting her from Milwaukee where they live with Grandpa Mac. When Viktor, owner of Sparrow Road, picks them up and explains the Silence Rule, no talking during the day so artists can work, Raine has a fit. Her mother didn't tell her about that ridiculous rule. Her mother has been secretive since they left and it fuels Raine's anger. On the first day, her mother goes to town with Viktor and when Raine begs to go along, her mother says, "No" telling her to lock herself in the cottage. Raine is a teenager and in the middle of nowhere and I thought this didn't seem very normal; not to mention not bringing Raine into town. When Raine's mom tells her to stay by the cottage so she can see her I did some more head-scratching, but eventually the plot unfolds and Mom's actions become clear.

As Raine settles into life in the big house, she makes friends with the artists; all interesting characters in their own right. "Suddenly Josie marched into the kitchen, her long, sure steps reminding me of the cowboys in the westerns Grandpa watched."Lillian is not quite right in the head even those she's sweeter than ice cream and the wise Diego is comic relief. The subplot where Raine starts to write and comes up with an imaginary friend based on an orphan, Lyman Chase, who drew a picture is an interesting way to show her emotional arc of figuring out what is going on with the adults around her, as well as, show the creative process. At first she struggles to write until Diego gives her the prompt, "What was or what could be..." When her imaginary character, Lyman, develops a voice of his own I wondered if this is what it is like for writers creating characters in their stories.

When they have an Art Extravaganza and Raine is terrified to read her piece out loud it made me think of fears of speaking in front of others and risks taken when doing anything public. Doubts creep into the mind and terror can reach out like tendrils through the body wracking up visions of people laughing or looking stupid. It is hard developing a thick skin and while nothing goes horribly wrong for Raine, she still has to get over her fears and vulnerability by stepping in front of family and friends. Blogging is that way for me. I feel vulnerable because it is a public domain. Am I learning and changing and getting better with analyzing books? I hope so. But I also know I have a lot of bad reviews. Perhaps when I hit my 10,000 hour mark that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in "Outliers" I will feel confident and not so self-conscious.

The plot is predictable which was probably okay because the mom seemed out-of-character in the beginning. Once it appeared her mom knew Viktor, I connected the dots as to what was going to happen next. While this takes a bit of the tension out, I didn't feel disappointed because the characters move the pace along and I anxiously anticipated what was going to happen next. I credit O'Connor's terrific writing to keep me going. I am not a very patient reader and don't like this type of book as a matter of personal taste. Another tweak I'd make is I think that the book had too much of an adult focus versus a child focus. Raine is dealing mainly with adult problems and there is no other kid that is her age to interact with in the storyline, only an imaginary friend. While she is surrounded by loving, supportive adults, I would have liked some other kids.

The character, Lillian sounds like a teacher even though she has the beginning of dementia. She talks about all children being brilliant and her love for her students is obvious. She is a teacher who sees the potential in students and her voice seemed very authentic to me. I wonder if the author taught young students before becoming a university professor. The emotional arc of Raine is well-written with nice depth as she deals with not growing up with a dad and having empathy for the orphans who once lived at Sparrow Road. Diego gives Raine some good advice when it comes to writing, "Just pick a piece closest to your heart. That's all art really is. Your feelings sent out to someone else." When Raine says she wants her piece to be really good (sounds like a clear case of writer's block), Diego responds, "Good will goof you up from the beginning. Art just has to be. Dream your dreams. Trust the words that come." Good advice, wouldn't you say?

Reading Level 3.9
Fountas & Pinnell: W
4 Smileys

No comments:

Post a Comment