Silhouette of a Sparrow

Silhouette of a Sparrow

4.0 3
by Molly Beth Griffin
     
 

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WINNER OF THE MILKWEED PRIZE FOR CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
WINNER OF THE 2013 PATERSON PRIZE FOR BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS
ALA RAINBOW LIST RECOMMENDED BOOK
AMELIA BLOOMER PROJECT LIST RECOMMENDED BOOK
LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FINALIST
MINNESOTA BOOK AWARD FINALIST
FOREWARD REVIEWS BOOK OF THE YEAR HONORABLE MENTION

In the summer of 1926,

Overview

WINNER OF THE MILKWEED PRIZE FOR CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
WINNER OF THE 2013 PATERSON PRIZE FOR BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS
ALA RAINBOW LIST RECOMMENDED BOOK
AMELIA BLOOMER PROJECT LIST RECOMMENDED BOOK
LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FINALIST
MINNESOTA BOOK AWARD FINALIST
FOREWARD REVIEWS BOOK OF THE YEAR HONORABLE MENTION

In the summer of 1926, sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is sent to a lake resort to escape the polio epidemic in the city. She dreams of indulging her passion for ornithology and visiting the famous new amusement park—a summer of fun before she returns for her final year of high school, after which she’s expected to marry a nice boy and settle into middle-class homemaking. But in the country, Garnet finds herself under the supervision of equally oppressive guardians—her father’s wealthy cousin and the matron’s stuck-up daughter. Only a liberating job in a hat shop, an intense, secret relationship with a daring and beautiful flapper, and a deep faith in her own fierce heart can save her from the suffocating boredom of traditional femininity.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With a father haunted by his WWI service and a mother consumed with social standing, 16-year-old Garnet is eager to spend time with relatives in the resort town of Excelsior, Minn., during the summer of 1926. She soon settles into life with her snooty aunt and frosty 14-year-old cousin. Garnet is a bird lover who uses scissors to create silhouettes of the birds she sees (a “quaint Victorian pastime,” as she puts it), but this interest masks her deeper passion for the study and protection of birds. Garnet accepts that her future is marriage, not college, at least until she meets Isabella, a dancer who shows Garnet how to follow her dreams and opens her eyes to unexpected romance. Garnet’s sexual awakening is suffused with lightness and joy, and her familial and identity struggles will resonate with contemporary teens, although the ending is perhaps too neat. Picture book author Griffin’s (Loon Baby) first novel for teens is laced with evocative period details that give readers a taste of what it was like to come of age during the flapper era. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"Silhouette of a Sparrowis a stunning book, a historical novel that features a girl-who-loves-girls protagonist, a triumph from start to finish."
—Sarah Diemer, Muse Rising

"The coming-of-age story features a thoughtful protagonist with a gentle voice. Opulent setting descriptions complement interesting historical detail and beautiful language. The motif of different bird species to begin each chapter serves as a neat structural metaphor for various characters in the story (not unlike Annie Proulx's knots in The Shipping News). Garnet's feminist and environmental concerns are relevant for a young contemporary audience without feeling anachronistic to the narrative."
—Jackie Reitzes, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Beautiful...unique story"
—McNally Jackson Kids, online

"An immensely charming short novel…. Griffin perfectly captures the mood of America in the twenties—prohibition, first wave feminism, ongoing and virulent racism, the class war at one of its many peaks— and it is this that pushes Silhouette to be more than ‘just’ a coming of age romance novel, but an example of historical fiction at its most vivid…. Well-researched and beautifully lyrical, her slightest nuances and atmospheric shifts—stifling, sticky heat; the smell of rain, promising; the cling of smoke to fabric; the curl of craft paper in a flame—captivate, inspire, and evoke that sense of longing and lust that perfectly encapsulate the rush of first love. And it is not just love, but Garnet’s growth as an individual, which makes Silhouette of a Sparrow a compelling and unique summer read. "
—Lisa Harrison, Vada Magazine

"A very quick and enjoyable read. It gave me a glimpse into a period of time that I was unfamiliar with, and had a range of engaging characters and a believable storyline."
The Lesbrary

"A lovely, bittersweet and quiet coming of age story. It brilliantly combines its vivid historical setting which has been meticulously researched by the author (as per the author notes in the end) , Garnet love for ornithology with a story about growth and about falling in love...a very enjoyable, gratifying read. I recommend it."
—Ana, The Book Smugglers blog

"Griffin speaks to the heart of [adolescent] yearnings and turmoil and challenges. She understands they want to be seen, they want to be uniquely themselves, they want to challenge and push societal norms they may find outdated or irrelevant, but they so often want to figure out how to do these things within the context of the world around them.... [The book] had me cheering to the very end. Silhouette of a Sparrow is well-written with a lovely setting, and gives its readers fresh, unique variations on a typical coming of age story."
Lovely Bookshelf blog

"A sweet, quiet coming-of-age story set in a Prohibition-era lakeside resort....This slim tale is a positive breath of fresh air in a market bloated with opportunistic dystopian and paranormal romances. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)"
Kirkus Reviews

"Tenderly and touchingly realized...a pleasant and diverting read. "
— Michael Cart, Booklist

"Picture book author Griffin’s (Loon Baby) first novel for teens is laced with evocative period details that give readers a taste of what it was like to come of age during the flapper era. Ages 12–up."
Publishers Weekly

"Silhouette of a Sparrow is an excellent example of an historical coming-of-age lesbian young adult novel. Written with a deft hand, based in the true history of its setting, and with characterizations that will ring true to any teenager, it is a worthy and enjoyable read for anyone. The writing style is straight-forward so the  plot turns, analogies, and descriptions stand out, adding vibrancy to the story. Take flight with Garnet by reading and undoubtedly enjoying the telling of her story."
—Lydia Harris, Lambda Literary

"Rich with emotion and loaded with fascinating details of the flapper era, Silhouette of a Sparrow is a wonderful novel about independence and first love."
—Marsha Qualey, author of Come in from the Cold and Just Like That

"Like the birds that young Garnet catalogs and cuts out in paper silhouettes, Molly Beth Griffin’s feisty narrator leaves her fledgling self behind as she spreads her wings and learns to fly. Rich in period detail, Griffin links past to present in a compelling novel that is both a love story and the tale of a budding ornithologist. Young readers will respond to Garnet’s need to heal her broken family, even as she struggles to follow her dreams. A fine debut novel!"
—Liza Ketchum, author of Newsgirl and Where the Great Hawk Flies

Praise for Loon Baby

“This lovely picture book addresses a child's fear of abandonment and offers the reassurance of a mother's love.”
Booklist

“Guaranteed to hit the mark with anyone who's ever felt lost and alone.”
Kirkus

“While understated, the story has a sturdy quality that should stand up to repeated read-alouds.”
Publishers Weekly

“This gentle story of a young bird's fears of being abandoned by an out-of-sight parent offers reassurance to children in a similar situation.”
School Library Journal

“...lyrical narrative...”
Hornbook Guide to Children

"Rich with emotion and loaded with fascinating details of the flapper era, Silhouette of a Sparrow is a wonderful novel about independence and first love." — Marsha Qualey, author of Come in From the Cold and Just Like That

Children's Literature - Sarah Raymond
Sixteen-year-old Garnet views her world through the various birds she encounters and deftly cuts out of paper. It is the summer of 1926 and Garnet is forced to visit her aunt in Excelsior, Minnesota. Her mother is hoping that this leave will give her father the time to heal from the sadness overwhelming him after the war. Garnet finds herself drawn to the amusement park and the dance hall that her aunt is quick to snub and look down upon. After spending many boring days on the front porch of the hotel, she is unable to tame her free spirit and daringly asks to find a job. She becomes employed at a hat shop where she meets the beautiful, untamed Isabella. There is an immediate connection between the two girls that eventually turns to romance. Garnet finds herself drawn to Isabella and the freedom she offers while feeling the need to satisfy her family and live up to their expectations. Although this is a love story, it is really about a young girl finding her way in the world and breaking free from the confines of society. This beautifully written story follows the triumphs and woes of poor Garnet. Each chapter identifies a different bird that she comes in contact with and becomes the focus of the chapter. At the end Garnet finally realizes her true potential, casting off the sparrow to find a beautiful goldfinch that is finally able to fly. Reviewer: Sarah Raymond
VOYA - Kathleen Beck
It is 1926 and sixteen-year-old Garnet is sent to spend the summer with wealthy relations at a Minnesota lake resort. Back home, her mother nurses Garnet's father, a World War I veteran, and plans Garnet's marriage to steady, reliable Teddy. Garnet quickly discovers the charms of little Excelsior: an amusement park; a part-time job in a milliner's shop; many species of the beautiful birds she loves to study; and Isabella, sparkling Isabella, a star performer at the local dance hall. Soon Garnet realizes that marriage to Teddy is not her future. That future must include college, and Isabella. The summer comes to a dramatic climax with a desertion, a fire, a revelation about the wealthy Harringtons, and Garnet's realization that no one but she can determine her life course. Whether others approve or not, she will fly. Griffin sets this coming-of-age story in her childhood hometown, which she skillfully brings to life. Garnet and Isabella are appealing characters; however, there are problems. The depiction of the 1920s time period is an uneasy, somehow unconvincing combination of Victorian and modern behavior, with curtsying on one side and the Charleston on the other. If Garnet's relatives are so conscious of appearances, would she be allowed to get a summer job? Would Garnet accept her sudden attraction to another woman with such equanimity? Language is occasionally awkward: Mother "frisks" dust off Garnet's collar and makes "far-flung" excuses for sending her away. Though promising, this first novel is not quite a first choice. Reviewer: Kathleen Beck
Kirkus Reviews
A sweet, quiet coming-of-age story set in a Prohibition-era lakeside resort. Middle-class Garnet, 16, has been sent from St. Paul to spend the summer with a distant, wealthy relative to give her shellshocked World War I–veteran father space to heal. She misses him terribly; before the war they went birding together, and he protected her from her mother's attempts to make her a lady. She has sublimated her love of the outdoors into an uncanny talent to cut the silhouettes of birds, which decorate and inform each chapter. Once in Excelsior, she finds herself bored by ladylike pursuits and both seeks employment with the milliner and falls in love with Isabella, a beautiful girl who performs in the forbidden dance hall. Race relations, class differences and "the love that dare not speak its name" intertwine thoughtfully in this meticulous novel. The Jazz Age resort-town setting and environs are beautifully evoked; the author's afterword attests to her research. Garnet's narration reveals a girl on the cusp of modernity, one whose desire for something more and something else feels both alluring and terrifying. A subplot in which Garnet attempts to convince her employer not to use feathers in her hats is consistent but feels superfluous in this otherwise tight and purposeful, if slightly overdetermined, novel. This slim tale is a positive breath of fresh air in a market bloated with opportunistic dystopian and paranormal romances. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781571317049
Publisher:
Milkweed Editions
Publication date:
08/06/2013
Series:
Milkweed Prize for Children's Literature
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
273,600
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Prologue
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

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.

But the puffed-up robin that sang outside the window of the birthing room came early too, that March of 1910, and just in time. He flew north before the spring came so he could sing me into the world. His song said Breathe child, this life was meant for you. When I finally let out my first scream I flushed red as that robin—red: the color of life, blood, love, and fury. At that moment I earned my name, Garnet, after the deep red stone that’s meant to bring courage. “Garnet, for courage,” Aunt Rachel, the midwife, said to me, when I was just a squalling baby.

My mother gave me life that day, but I was the one who decided to take it. I claimed it for myself.

That’s how the story goes. At least, that’s the way Aunt Rachel told it to me a hundred times over, even after I knew it by heart. That’s the version I asked to hear again and again as a child, so I could wrap those pretty words around me like a familiar blanket and fall asleep thinking I knew exactly who I was.

Meet the Author

Molly Beth Griffin is the recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Grant, a graduate of Hamline University's MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and a writing teacher at the Loft Literary Center in the Twin Cities. Her first picture book, Loon Baby, came out with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2011. Silhouette of a Sparrow is her first novel.

“The purpose of a love story is to fuel change”: Five Questions with Molly Beth Griffin by Will Wlizlo on 08/28/2012

It’s 1926 and sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is off to spend the summer in a Minnesota resort town. What seems at first a hum-drum vacation quickly becomes dramatic: Garnet starts her first job, uncovers secrets about her family’s finances, and stumbles into an unanticipated romance with a young flapper from the local dance hall.

Equal parts coming-of-age tale and historical fiction, Molly Beth Griffin’s Silhouette of a Sparrow is a fresh take on the wonders and woes of adolescence. Here, Griffin talks about teenage love, stirring up childhood memories by writing, and the Roaring Twenties in the Midwest.

Milkweed Editions: Garnet’s struggle to identify her feelings for the dancer Isabella perfectly encapsulates the awkwardness of adolescence, and her attraction to another girl makes the experience even more poignant. Why did you write about such a nontraditional teenage love story?

Molly Beth Griffin: In a novel, as in life, the purpose of a love story is to fuel change. And change comes about when something surprising lifts us out of ourselves. The more surprising that something is, the more powerful it can be. Most stories about GLBT characters focus on the “coming out” aspect, and although I think that has a place—it’s clearly an issue queer kids deal with—it shouldn’t be the only kind of book out there. Garnet’s is a love story—a story in which unexpected love forces a young woman to see herself differently, and become the person she wants to be.

Garnet—something of an amateur ornithologist—keeps herself busy by cutting paper silhouettes of birds she sees in the wild. Her two hobbies are vastly different, but speak to her personality: reserved, yet rebellious. How do bird watching and papercutting shape Garnet’s world?

With most true passions, there are ways to give a nod to one’s desires without really committing to them—to do what you love and yet stay within the confines of what is expected of you. And there is a place for that. For instance, we artists have to make our art but also find ways to put dinner on the table. But we have to be careful, because it is so easy to let the shreds of our passions become enough, when they aren’t enough. Garnet could cling to the acceptable version of what she wants, but would she ever be happy? And she could abandon the world of duty entirely, but that would come at a cost as well. Garnet’s silhouettes satisfy her and limit her at the same time, and create for her the line she must learn to tread ever so carefully.

Silhouette of a Sparrow is colored by many social and historical issues, from gender and race inequality to the economic dynamics of the ’20s. As Garnet confronts these challenges, we find ourselves applauding her conviction. Where does Garnet’s strength in perspective come from?

Molly Beth Griffin: I think she is a much stronger person than she’d ever admit to being, endowed with a great moral conviction that stems from empathy for both humans and animals. And although her parents aren’t always presented in the best light in the book, I do think that her mother’s fierceness and her father’s kind heart had a part in forming her. In fiction and in life, what we struggle with is usually what makes us who we are—we can then, in turn, overcome those issues that formed us.

What makes historic Excelsior, Minnesota, the right locale for Garnet’s wild summer?

It, like her, was simultaneously placid and adventurous. It was a tranquil resort town filled with middle-class vacationers, and the home of reckless amusement park rides and a rowdy dance hall appealing to the raucous teenage crowd of the Roaring Twenties. Garnet could go there expecting one thing, and find herself encountering something very different; she could go there one person, and leave someone else.

Did writing Garnet’s story stir up memories of your own childhood? What, if anything, did she teach you about your younger self?

I got to relive my hometown experience through Garnet, colored by a very different time. And I had to move through my own vocational trajectory of high school and college, culminating in my deeply satisfying immersion in an MFA program and the beginning of my writing career. This novel is an attempt to tell my young self not to doubt my passions, not to settle for less, not to choose the safest path but instead challenge myself to take risks and commit to doing what I love.

Molly Beth Griffin is the author of the recently published YA novel Silhouette of a Sparrow, as well as the picture book, Loon Baby (Houghton Mifflin, 2011).

Milkweed Editions intern Rosie Szychalski assisted with this article.

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Silhouette of a Sparrow 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
This coming of age story is geared for ages 12 and up, with a 16-year-old protagonist. It has strong historical fiction overtones as well, being chock full of insights into American life during the 1920's: prohibition, racism, social status, and the culture of flappers. It also provides a unique and sensitive look into the lives of women who weren't happy with the traditional roles expected of them at the time (not encouraged to read or pursue science, not working because it would make their husbands "look bad"), but who didn't want to completely leave tradition behind. Something occurs late in the book that gently reminds readers why equal rights and the changing roles of women that occurred during this decade were so vital. I love how carefully Molly Beth Griffin presents the time period. The novel reads in a slightly old-fashioned way, but very subtly so (for example, describing a hat as "smart"). It is perfectly balanced: it feels authentic, yet still reads in a manner relevant and accessible to modern (especially young) readers. Griffin speaks to the heart of this age group and taps into the yearnings and turmoil and challenges adolescents experience. She understands they want to be seen, they want to be uniquely themselves, they want to challenge and push societal norms they may find outdated or irrelevant, but they so often want to figure out how to do these things within the context of the world around them. Garnet is a perfect example: she loves science and reading and learning, yet expertly uses the more "acceptable" and "feminine" art of paper cutting to satisfy her desire to pursue these interests. This compromise was good enough as a child, but she finds herself at a crossroads as she approaches young adulthood. Garnet has a summer romance with a flapper, and I liked that this relationship came about in a very natural way. It is simply part of the story and in no way feels as if it was inserted merely for shock value or as a political statement. I think this aspect of the book will fill a gap for many readers. There is also a pivotal moment when a minor character in the story becomes Garnet's confidante and champion, and that had me cheering to the very end. Silhouette of a Sparrow is well-written with a lovely setting, and gives its readers fresh, unique variations on a typical coming of age story.
PortraitWords More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written story about a girl struggling with her identity, and falling in love genuinely for the first time. Some of the descriptions were so lovely, I found myself whispering them to myself over and over. A couple of the characters who at first seemed flat, soon became more real as Garnet's eyes began to open. Garnet's story unfolds realistically, and in such a way that will inspire readers to take a closer look at themselves, and the world around them.  I myself appreciated the afterword where the author informs us on which parts of the book were fact, and which were fiction.  Silhouette of a Sparrow is a book I felt bittersweet about finishing, and I would recommend it to anyone. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My stars are in the middle solely because of the writing itself; otherwise, I'd give it two stars.  While the writing is beautiful and multi-layered, the novel is somewhat preachy and more contemporary to 2013 than I think is realistic.  Plus, parents need to know that this is a very lesbian novel with a strong, fairly graphic (and revolting) sex scene (stopping short at specifics), and for a girl raised in a Christian society and family (at least, that's what I gathered), I found it odd that she did not deal with any moral struggle in her relationship with Isabella.  This is normal, perhaps, for this era but it doesn't seem realistic for 1927.