AfterEllen.com Book Club: “Silhouette of a Sparrow”

When I think about my reading experience of Silhouette of a Sparrow, it feels like a much simpler read than some of our past book club selections. Although I say that very cautiously, as some people would assume I feel that way just because it’s also our first YA selection. But equating YA with “simpler” is one of the stupidest things one can do, so no, that’s not it. I actually feel like it had the potential to be an epic YA novel, because when I think about it further, it actually encompasses a whole range of issues that are anything but simple: History! Feminism! Queerness and sexuality! Environmental activism! The lingering effects of war! Racism!

But for some reason, it never reached that level of epicness for me, which I don’t think necessarily had to do with Molly Beth Griffin’s writing, which I thought was lovely. The first paragraph, for instance, was excellent:

I was born blue. Life ripped me early from my safe place and thrust me into the world. It was all so astonishing that I forgot to breathe.

For me, I think this lack-of-epicness could have been due to two factors: one, my just not being in the right mood for it at the time. I had just finished an action-packed series before picking this up, and it seemed very quiet in comparison when my mind was still pounding from what I’d just finished reading. I’m very interested in how our own personal factors, which could be any range of things, play into our reading of a book, factors which I don’t think are included in book reviews or critiques enough.

The other thing is that maybe it just wasn’t long enough. I don’t often wish that a book could be longer, because the quicker I can get through a book the quicker I can get to all the other books waiting on my towering piles of things to be read. But I feel like I could have really sunk into this world, which felt like it was a world I really could have dug, if I just had a little more of it, a little more detail, a little more atmosphere, a little more insight into the heart and soul of things. This also could have just been a matter of editing; authors without star power aren’t typically invited to write uber long manuscripts.

This all said, I think for discussion points this month, I really just want to break it down into: What did you like? What didn’t you?

What I Did Like:

The time period and the setting. I feel like the 1920s are such a fascinating time in American history, and I would read anything, anywhere, about them. (For another YA book set in the 1920s beset with feminist themes, and with enough heft to it that you really can sink into its world, check out Libba Bray’s The Diviners.) I also enjoyed that it was in a small lake resort town in Minnesota, which typically isn’t the setting for a glitzy ‘20s story (although it is the perfect setting for a good summer fling story). It was interesting seeing how the flapper influence was making its way, slowly, into small towns such as Excelsior, and, as always, how harshly the majority of society resists change.

I also loved the bird motif, the naming of each chapter after a different species. And I wanted those fancy scissors! Little quirks like the bird thing always increase my love of a book and make it stick in my mind longer.

I also, importantly, did really like Isabella, and Isabella and Garnet together. Their attraction and their chemistry felt real, and I understood why each of them was genuinely interested in the other. There was a longing in each of them for things the other had. And the day on the island felt magical. I don’t know if this book was necessarily meant to be a love story, as opposed to just a book about a girl starting to find herself. But the love story within it was a good one.

Which I suppose does lead me to one last question:

What do you think the future held for Garnet and Isabella?

Like all summer love stories, Silhouette of a Sparrow ended on a somewhat bittersweet note, although mostly sweet, as things for the two girls did seem to be headed in positive directions — just separate ones. What do you think happened to each girl as they grew up?

The way Griffin leaves it, we feel somewhat confident that Garnet will indeed go to college, and that Isabella will hopefully have some type of reconciliation with her family. But what about the two of them together? I like to think that they remain in each other’s lives somehow, that while they will both fall in and out of love with many different people throughout their lives, they’ll keep in some type of contact, or meet up again at some point in time. Or maybe stories where two people never see each other again just feel too sad for me to contemplate.

What are your thoughts?

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