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The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney

4.5 28
by Suzanne Harper

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How do you ignore a ghost?

Sparrow Delaney absolutely, positively does not want to be a medium like her six older sisters, her mother, and her grandmother. She does not want to see, hear, smell, or talk to ghosts. If she sticks to her rules and doesn't let anyone know that she can do all those things—everywhere, all the time—Sparrow just


How do you ignore a ghost?

Sparrow Delaney absolutely, positively does not want to be a medium like her six older sisters, her mother, and her grandmother. She does not want to see, hear, smell, or talk to ghosts. If she sticks to her rules and doesn't let anyone know that she can do all those things—everywhere, all the time—Sparrow just might pass as a normal tenth grader at her new high school. She makes a new best friend and meets an irritatingly appealing guy in her history class. But when another boy catches her eye, all Sparrow's dreams of being ordinary go up in smoke. Because this boy is a dead one—a persistent, charming, infuriating ghost, who won't let her be until she agrees to help him Move On.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Harper's (Boitano's Edge) polished debut novel couches an unexpectedly poignant meditation on loss in a quick-moving plot about ghosts and the spiritual mediums who communicate with them. Fifteen-year-old Sparrow Delaney is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and therefore highly gifted in the psychic arts. The only problem: she wants nothing to do with her talent. She trains herself to ignore the ghosts that compete for her attention, at least in the presence of her family and fellow citizens of Lily Dale, N.Y., a (real-life) town that attracts tourists with its famous spiritualists and Spirit meetings. But how can Sparrow shake off the teenage ghost who refuses to stop haunting her unless she helps him, and what does he have to do with the cute boy in the new school she's transferred to in hopes of escaping the Lily Dale weirdness? A steady stream of wit refreshes familiar-seeming story elements. Harper serves up pitch-perfect dialogue from high school athletes and teachers; squabbling mediums; and such clever flourishes as the grandfatherly baker, the 19th-century young Indian gentleman and the exacting female professor who serve as Sparrow's spirit guides. Surprise turns add to the plot's pleasures, but what makes this book stand out most is Harper's attention to the pockets of sorrow in her characters' histories, each of them handled with care. For all of the imagination the author displays in inventing a spirit world, she shows equal skill in probing the nuances of tender emotions, too. Ages 12-up. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
VOYA - Debbie Clifford
Fifteen-year-old Sparrow is the youngest of seven sisters living with their mother and grandmother in Lily Dale-a town where spiritualism thrives. The women possess varied psychic powers and act as mediums, providing the family income. Sparrow denies to her family that she has any psychic abilities as she wishes to live "normally." She starts at a new high school where no one knows her or her family and is soon paired for a history project with Jack, a surly classmate. Jack chooses Lily Dale as the topic, and Sparrow must hide her connection to the town. Simultaneously Luke, the spirit of a seventeen-year-old boy, begins to visit Sparrow and beg for her help. She is drawn to him and his plight, especially after she discovers his connection to Jack. Ultimately Sparrow must decide whether it is more important to deny her gifts and be normal or accept who she is and aid a friend. The story is a bit overpopulated with offbeat characters; however, it gives the reader a sense of the mayhem in which Sparrow lives and illustrates her confusion about the direction of her life. Teen readers will identify with Sparrow's wish to fit in and will find this story to be neither too heavy nor too fanciful but an entertaining read.
Children's Literature - Amie Rose Rotruck
Sparrow Delaney has a secret from the rest of her family. She can see and hear ghosts. She keeps this a secret, not because her family will not believe her, but because they will. Sparrow Delaney comes from a long line of psychics and, as she is the seventh daughter, she is supposed to be the most psychic of all. All Sparrow wants is to be normal and non-psychic. For years she has kept this secret from her family and refuses to talk to the ghosts who approach her, except for her three spirit guides. Now that Sparrow is starting at a new school, this is her chance to be completely normal, as no one will know her older psychic sisters. However, normal is not in the cards for Sparrow. A very insistent ghost will not leave her alone and pulls pranks like filling her locker with Jello until she will listen to him. When Sparrow discovers a link between the ghost and Jack, a very annoying and cute boy with whom she is partnered for history class, she is forced to reconsider her policy of not helping ghosts. While psychics abound in young adult literature, Sparrow Delaney stands out with her humor and unique problems, making this a fun, touching, supernatural adventure.
KLIATT - Cara Chancellor
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, July 2007: There's no getting around it: Sparrow Delaney's family is eccentric. She, her six older sisters, her mother and her grandmother live together in an old house that contains one bathroom, four graves in the front yard, bamboo skulls on the porch…and a room for communicating with ghosts. That's because the Delaney family is one of the oldest families of mediums in the very old town of Lily Dale. Out of all the mysteries within her family, though, the biggest secret actually belongs to Sparrow. For the past 15 years, she has been consoling her family, who are sorry that her own psychic abilities seem to be nonexistent, in spite of her potential as the seventh child of a seventh child. She's been lying. The only "people" from whom Sparrow cannot hide her abilities are the spirits themselves, but up until her 15th birthday, she just ignored them: she has seen the impoverished, ridiculed life that comes from being a medium, and she wants no part of it. Then she meets Luke, a ghost who is haunting a mysterious (and very cute) boy in Sparrow's history class named Jack. As Sparrow gets to know both Luke and Jack, she wonders if she needs to rethink her stance on being a psychic after all. Sparrow Delaney is the sort of character who is exactly calculated to make the reader fall immediately and irrevocably in love with her, and the book's mystery-laden plot demands "just five more pages" of its reader all the way to its end. Harper alludes to Pride and Prejudice several times throughout the book, and any Jane Austen fan will appreciate the similarities between that story and this one (including a rather unexpected and satisfyingending!). With its masterful charm and superbly creative storyline, the only possible fault with this book is that Harper has not already written two or three sequels to it. Reviewer: Cara Chancellor
School Library Journal

Gr 7-10 Sparrow Delaney, 15, lives in Lily Dale, NY, a town populated with mediums who generate income by "serving Spirit," or hosting séances. Her mother, grandmother, and six sisters are all professional channelers of the other realm. Sparrow has had the ability to see, smell, hear, and communicate with ghosts since she was five, but, much to her family's chagrin, she denies these talents. Embarrassed by her town, dubbed "Spookyville" by outsiders, the girl attends school a few miles away. When her history-project partner, moody and handsome Jack, wants to research Lily Dale, Sparrow hides her knowledge of the place. Then she begins to be haunted by a teenage ghost named Luke, who happens to be Jack's missing brother. Luke refuses to be ignored and insists on using Sparrow to send messages to the living. On the first anniversary of his disappearance, his family decides to hold a televised séance in Lily Dale. Despite her refusal to embrace her "gift," Sparrow reveals Luke's messages, resulting in varied emotions from his parents and the townspeople. Readers will enjoy this combination of mystery, adventure, and romance, with enticing twists and turns. Harper seems to have studied Spiritualism and the real town of Lily Dale rather well, creating an accurate atmosphere. The ending, although somewhat sappy, is touching and effective.-Marie C. Hansen, New York Public Library

Kirkus Reviews
What high-school kid wants to be a freak, especially the kind who talks to dead people? Not Sparrow Delaney, which is why she's keeping the secret from her family of seven women, all skilled mediums, that she can see and talk to ghosts. Evidently, as the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, she has a special psychic gift, but when the ghost of a teenage boy appears to her in her classroom and pleads for her help, she can't ignore him. The current abundance of supernatural and occult books usually have historical settings, but the clever twist in this offering casts Sparrow's family in contemporary time in Lily Dale, N.Y., a Spiritualist community. Early references to thrift stores and computers clue the reader as modern trappings enhance the confrontations and dilemmas between the dearly departed and the visionary living. Idiosyncratic sisters (all named for birds by their ornithologist father who's now missing), budding romance, a mysterious fatal accident and a live-wire grandmother all test Sparrow's own spirit as she faces her destiny. Sparrow's plight gives new meaning to "not a ghost of a chance"-an entertaining one. (Fiction. 12-16)

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney

Chapter One

It was three minutes past midnight, and the dead wouldn't leave me alone. I pulled my pillow over my head to shut out the voices floating up from downstairs, but it didn't help. Tonight it was Grandma Bee, my mother, and my sister Oriole who were channeling messages from the Other Side.

First I heard Grandma Bee. "I see an older woman. She's short, a little pudgy, her dentures don't fit well, and she's squinting. Looks like she has a migraine. Hmm. And maybe a touch of indigestion."

Then the voice of my grandmother's visitor: "That's my great-aunt Agatha! That's her to a tee!"

"Hmmph." Grandma Bee loathes being interrupted. I can just imagine the irate glare she's leveling at her visitor. It's been months since we've had enough money to get my grandmother's glasses fixed, so they sit askew on her nose, one side held together with a large safety pin. The thick lenses magnify her eyes and make them look rather wild. The crooked tilt of the frames make her look slightly mad. The combination—plus Grandma Bee's death-ray stare—usually silences . . . well, everybody.

This woman, however, kept gushing. "I can't get over it! It's absolutely uncanny! You've described her perfectly!"

I knew what Grandma Bee would like to say: Of course I've described her perfectly. I am after all a professional medium. And your great-aunt is standing right here in front of me.

But it's not good business to snap at paying customers, so she contented herself with a louder hmmph and an irritable clack of her dentures before continuing. "NowI'm getting something else. . . . Oh, she says you're not using enough salt when you make her potato soup." A note of boredom entered Grandma Bee's voice. She hates it when ghosts talk about recipes; she only deigns to turn on the stove when she wants to brew some of her homemade weed killer. "And she says to add some bacon grease, for heaven's sake. A little fat won't kill you."

"Oh, thank you!" The visitor sighed happily at this seasoning tip from beyond the grave. "Would it be all right if I asked just one more little question? It's about the number of onions she said to use. . . ."

I threw my pillow on the floor and gave a huge, irritable yawn. Earlier in the evening I had sat at my bedroom window and peered down at tonight's visitors as they walked up our cracked front sidewalk. I counted five people, meaning that the reading should have lasted about two hours, but the spirits were very chatty tonight. We were closing in on three hours with no end in sight.

Unfortunately, I have always found it impossible to fall asleep until every stranger, living or dead, has left our house. This has led to many late nights and cranky mornings because my grandmother and mother have been hosting psychic readings—or, as spiritualists say, serving Spirit—in our front parlor since before I was born.

I closed my eyes and tried to relax, but it wasn't just the ghosts that were keeping me awake. Tomorrow was my fifteenth birthday—undoubtedly the begining of a new and brilliant future!—and right after that was the first day of school. And this year the start of school was even scarier (and more thrilling) than usual.

The reason was simple: I had always assumed that I would go to Jamestown High School, just as my six (yes, count them, six) older sisters had. But some sort of redistricting plan was put into place last year. After all the lines had been redrawn, it turned out that I lived in a borderline area, so I could choose to attend either Jamestown High or a huge, recently consolidated high school thirty miles away.

Hmm, let's see . . . I could go to the school where my sisters had spent years making a, shall we say, vivid impression, and where I would attend classes with people I had known since kindergarten. Or I could go to a brand-new school and meet brand-new people and make a brand-new start on my life. What to do, what to do?

We had three months to decide. It took me about three seconds.

I was the only person in my town who chose the new school, mainly because nobody else wanted a forty-five-minute bus ride each morning and afternoon. I didn't care. I would have traveled twice as far to end up in a place where I didn't know anyone and, most crucially, no one knew me.

Because when you have a deep, dark secret to hide, a new beginning is a very good thing.

12:15 A.M.

I stared at the ceiling. Through a quirk in our old house's heating system, the hushed voices on the first floor floated up into my attic bedroom with perfect clarity.

"May I come to you?" Oriole asked another visitor. (There are several ways that mediums can ask if a person would like to hear a message from beyond the grave. Some people say, "May I share your energy, my friend?" while others say, "May I enter your vibration?" The important thing, my mother says, is to ask. "It's only polite, my darlings," she always adds.)

The sound of my sister's voice brought her image in front of me as clearly as if I were sitting opposite her in the dimly lit parlor: She sits on a faded green couch, the perfect backdrop for her long silver blond hair. Candlelight flickers over her pale, luminous skin. She is gazing into the distance, an otherworldly look on her face. (She spent months practicing that expression and then ended up looking like Joan of Arc's less stable sister.)

"You have suffered a disappointment in love recently," Oriole said.

The visitor caught her breath with amazement. Visitors always do, even though just about everyone has suffered a disappointment in love recently, depending . . .

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney. Copyright (c) by Suzanne Harper . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Suzanne Harper grew up in Texas and lives in New York City.

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Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Goose-Girl More than 1 year ago
The only reason I purchased The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney was because Barnes and Noble had it on sale. I expected the book to be just ok and probably one I would just finish and move on from. I was pleasantly surprised though, when the book far exceeded my expectations. Sparrow is a relatable character who doesn't fall into the stereotypical gender role. This book is not only a fun, easy read for teens, but young adults and even adults as well. The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney is has humor, and other emotions. The writing makes you smile or laugh at times, and feel the sadness of events at others. Great Read :)
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
For Sparrow Delaney, having to switch schools before starting tenth grade isn't a curse--it's a blessing. All her life she's wanted to be normal, and now that she's found a chance to start over, she's not about to let anything ruin it. But it's hard to live a normal life when your sisters, mother, and grandmother are all mediums, in contact with the spirit world, and when you live in Lily Dale, New York, a town devoted to spiritualism where s¿ances are regular activities and everyone you meet has some affinity for the dead. It only gets harder when you hear the dead, too.

As the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Sparrow is an exceptionally powerful medium. She's been seeing ghosts since she was five years old, and she knows her talents far surpass those of anyone else she's met. But Sparrow has always wanted more from life than being a medium, so from a young age, she's hidden her gifts, pretending that she cannot communicate with the dead at all. She sees her move to a new school as a chance to finally break away from the teasing that's always followed her, and the first step in becoming someone who has no need for annoying spirits who refuse to Move On.

Unfortunately for Sparrow, the spirits don't care too much about what she wants. On the first day of school, the spirit of a teen named Luke appears to her and urges her to help him solve the problems that are keeping him from Moving On. Sparrow ignores him at first, but Luke is more persistent than the other ghosts she's shrugged off over the years, and eventually she finds herself grudgingly listening to his story. Sparrow also has to deal with a history project partner, Will, who decides they should focus their local history report on Lily Dale and "those psychic quacks" who live there. Not to mention the continued worrying of her mother, grandmother, and sisters about her apparent lack of talents.

I came into this story less than thrilled by the premise, but I was quickly won over by Sparrow's first-person voice as she articulated all of the difficulties of being a teenage medium trying to hide her talents. The author does a good job of painting realistic--albeit quirky--relationships between Sparrow and her family members and new-found friends. The intricacies of her interactions with Luke and Will kept me wanting to know more about all of the characters involved. Even readers put off by the story's fantastic premise will be sucked into the drama of Sparrow's life and fly through the plot's twists and turns until they reach what I felt was a very satisfying conclusion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's sometimes amazing how far one will lie to stay 'normal,' even if it means ignoring your own 'talents.' However, Sparrow Delaney has had lots of practice. The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Sparrow's family has been waiting for fifteen years for her 'powers' relating to ghosts to appear. That's right, ghosts. Sparrow's entire family (including her six sister Raven, Oriole, Lark, Linnet, Wren, and Dove, her mother, and her Grandmother Bee) have psychic powers. Which isn't too out-of-the-ordinary in Lily Dale, New York. Sparrow wants nothing to do with it. But what happens when one persistent ghost won't leave her alone until she helps 'right a terrible wrong'? And what does this have to do with her history partner, the gorgeous but (as Sparrow claims) sarcastic and rude Jack Dawson? I found this book amazing, and recommend it to anyone! It is NOT a creepy, horror ghost story, but a wit-filled, finding-yourself story brushed with a sprinkle of irony and sarcasm.
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The-Book-Worm More than 1 year ago
At first I thought ehh, why not, but I was unsure about it when I bought it. I finished it in a day and a half, loved every page. I got to the end and while happy with how it worked out wanted more of a story. The characters are interesting and funny, keeping me smiling through out the story. I thought that perhaps the story wouldn't be fitting for me due to being older then the main character but I was glad to be proved wrong.
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ZeroG57 More than 1 year ago
I got this as a bargain book just because it was cheap and didn't exactly have high hopes. BOY WAS I WRONG! Great read, funny book, really good
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Jaynez More than 1 year ago
It was an okay story, but some parts kind of dragged for me. I felt that it took too long for her to do anything and then it was wrapped up too nicely. Overall, it was a story about a girl accepting her family and the quirks life has given her.
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When I took out this book I thought it looked alright, I didn't think it was going to be good. But once I started reading it I couldn't put it down. The topic about ghosts was so different and interesting. It was kind of predictable but it was well written. I thought that the ending was really nice. After reading this book it left me feeling very happy. ~T~
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Marilyn_Jareds More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book after a recommendation from my librarian. I hope that many people read this book! ;)
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