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The Year the Swallows Came Early

The Year the Swallows Came Early

4.6 17
by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

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Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson loves cooking and plans to go to culinary school just as soon as she's old enough. But even Groovy's thoughtfully—planned menus won't fix the things that start to go wrong the year she turns eleven—suddenly, her father is in jail, her best friend's long-absent mother reappears, and the swallows that make their annual migration


Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson loves cooking and plans to go to culinary school just as soon as she's old enough. But even Groovy's thoughtfully—planned menus won't fix the things that start to go wrong the year she turns eleven—suddenly, her father is in jail, her best friend's long-absent mother reappears, and the swallows that make their annual migration to her hometown arrive surprisingly early. As Groovy begins to expect the unexpected, she learns about the importance of forgiveness, understands the complex stories of the people around her, and realizes that even an earthquake can't get in the way of a family that needs to come together.

Kathryn Fitzmaurice's lovely debut novel is distinctively Californian in its flavor. Her rich characters and strong sense of place feel both familiar and fresh at first meeting—and worth revisiting, again and again.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

With her passion for cooking, 11-year-old Eleanor, aka Groovy, dreams of becoming a professional chef. But her father, a compulsive gambler, bets away her inheritance from her great-grandmother, money she had planned to use for culinary school. At first Groovy is as angry as her mother, who has Groovy's father arrested, yet during the next several weeks she learns that broken dreams, and broken families, can be rebuilt. Debut novelist Fitzmaurice creates a sympathetic heroine in Groovy and an interesting sidekick in Frankie, whose estranged mother makes a sudden appearance shortly after Groovy's father is jailed. Although nature metaphors (a surprise earthquake, birds returning early, dandelion seeds blowing in the wind) are overdrawn, the author's use of food motifs (particularly Groovy's ability to associate different dishes with specific events and moods) appears more relevant and smoothly integrated. Fitzmaurice does not completely resolve the family conflicts, but she provides hints that love will conquer old resentments. Ages 9-12. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Keri Collins Lewis
With a special flair for preparing the perfect food for every mood, eleven-year-old Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson has big plans for her future: when she grows up, she will spend the inheritance left to her by her great-grandmother on culinary school. But the young chef's dreams fall as dramatically as a souffle when her beloved father is arrested during their Saturday morning walk to town. Even worse, her mother is the one who called the police, and Groovy discovers that more than her dreams of culinary school are dashed. From the safety of the Luis's kitchen at the Swallow's Shop and Ferry, both Groovy and her best friend Frankie struggle to deal with disappointment in their parents and attempt to navigate the ever-changing world around them. With themes of forgiveness, friendship, and human frailty, this beautifully crafted first novel by Kathryn Fitzmaurice portrays carefully drawn, realistic characters who easily captivate the reader with their charm, humor, and unique personalities. The motif of the swallows—migratory birds that return to San Juan Capistrano, California, each year—carries with it the idea of consistency for the book's main characters who do not like change, and reflects the underlying theme of finding one's way home. With a timeless feel, memorable characters, and vivid writing, Fitzmaurice captures her audience and holds their hearts until the very end. Reviewer: Keri Collins Lewis
School Library Journal

Gr 4-7

Watching helplessly as her father is taken off to jail, Groovy Robinson, 11, is convinced that there has been a terrible mistake. When her mom admits that she turned him in because he gambled away the $25,000 savings account that Groovy's great-grandmother left her, the child shrinks into herself-disappointed, hurt, not caring about anything. Not until Groovy-now wanting to be known as Eleanor-heeds the advice of the homeless old sailor Mr. Tom does she grasp that people we love can hurt us, but that only through forgiveness can we become whole again. This first novel is peopled with three-dimensional characters whose imperfections make them believable and interesting. Groovy's big-talking, ne'er-do-well dad donates a trailer to Mr. Tom. Her beautician mom is guided by astrology, but her boundless love for Eleanor is totally grounded. And Groovy's perceptive friend Frankie is unable to grasp the real reasons that his immigrant mother left him in his stepbrother's care. The well-structured plot is underscored by clear writing and authentic dialogue, and short chapters keep the story moving. The book draws a parallel with the birds of Capistrano, and a novel that encourages understanding, tolerance, and forgiveness is as welcome as the returning swallows.-Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, formerly at LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI

Kirkus Reviews
Eleven-year-old Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson is a girl with a dream. Fascinated by food and blessed with a culinary knack, Groovy plans to use the money left by her great-grandmother to go to cooking school, until she discovers that her father has gambled this money-her money-away. What's worse, her own mother has had him arrested for it. Groovy is by turns hurt, angry and lonely, but underneath all that she is confused. Her friend Frankie faces a similar situation: His mother vanished, leaving him in the care of his stepbrother, only to return years later hoping for a blissful reunion. In this daring, emotionally complex story, both Groovy and Frankie try to figure out how to accept people, especially parents, for who they are without abandoning their own needs and their own developing notions of right and wrong. As in real life, not everything is resolved in the end, and many questions remain, but things have achieved a fragile balance, rather like the ingredients in a delicate sauce. (Fiction. 10-14)
"A small, quiet story with an underlying message of forgiveness."
Booklist (starred review)
“A small, quiet story with an underlying message of forgiveness.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Year the Swallows Came Early

Chapter One

Coconut Flakes

We lived in a perfect stucco house, just off the sparkly Pacific, with a lime tree in the backyard and pink and yellow roses gone wild around a picket fence. But that wasn't enough to keep my daddy from going to jail the year I turned eleven. I told my best friend, Frankie, that it was hard to tell what something was like on the inside just by looking at the outside. And that our house was like one of those See's candies with beautiful swirled chocolate on the outside, but sometimes hiding coconut flakes on the inside, all gritty and hard, like undercooked white rice.

Things that look just right come undone quicker than the last day of summer. And one day, it happened right in front of me. The horoscope Mama read to me that morning should've been enough warning: Expect the unexpected. I'd raised my eyebrows and smiled, thinking the unexpected might be finally discovering a way to chop onions without crying or finding a dollar on the street—something unexpected but in a good way.

It wasn't.

Officer Miguel surprised Daddy and me, stopping us as we were walking out of the Swallow Shop & Ferry on our way into town. I walked with Daddy on his way to work every Saturday because I had no school bus to catch then.

"Mitch?" the officer asked my daddy. "There's a problem." He stood on the main corner of town, like he'd been waiting for us. Like he knew we'd be there at this time on this day.

"What problem?" I asked. I looked up at Daddy, thinking he must've forgotten to pay another parking ticket.

"I can't be late for work. I juststarted a new job at the hardware store," Daddy told the officer. "I'm sure this can wait." He took my hand quickly like he suddenly remembered he needed to get to an appointment, and we started across the street.

"But—" I turned to look back at Officer Miguel.

"Let's go," Daddy told me, pulling my arm just a little.

"You better take a look at this." Officer Miguel ran up to us fast, waving some papers, leaving his patrol car parked on the street.

Daddy sighed and stopped on the opposite sidewalk, where someone had used gray chalk to draw a small bird flying over a tree. His left foot covered the leaves of the tree and half the bird. He squeezed my hand hard, like he was trying to decide what to do. But then he let go softly, and his hand fell to his side.

"What's going on?" I asked him.

But he didn't answer. Instead, he watched the sky for what seemed like a million minutes—and just then, it seemed perfectly stitched to the horizon in the west where the cumulus clouds made shapes—like he was looking for an answer. Like he was waiting for the clouds to form the words, Say this. . . . Finally he pointed to the side of the road without looking at me or telling me anything.

So I walked there, knowing he wanted me to by the way he pushed his lips together. He held his arm high and stiff, like a command to go to my room.

Maybe it's true there's no such thing as a sign from above, but as I stepped onto that curb, I felt something. Even worse, I noticed Mr. Tom, the homeless man, suddenly standing up the street looking like he knew something too. Like he was saying, Groovy Robinson, be ready, because things could be changing.

My hands became sweaty. I waited while Officer Miguel showed Daddy the papers, trying to steer clear of Mr. Tom. I crossed and uncrossed my arms a million times. They had a mind of their own. Finally I pushed my hands deep into the pockets of my jean skirt just to keep them still.

I'm here to tell you I listened the best I could, but every time Officer Miguel talked, it was too hushed.

Daddy was louder and angrier than I'd ever heard him. And he kept taking little steps backward. And I kept thinking that he should not be talking to that policeman like he was.

Then I saw his shoulders slump down. He got into the backseat of the police car while Officer Miguel stuffed his handcuffs back into his pocket, like he'd decided it wasn't going to be necessary to use force.

Mr. Tom covered his face with his hands and sat down on the curb.

I ran over to the car as fast as I could, blinking tears back into my eyes. I wondered what Daddy could've done to make Officer Miguel put him in his car. I told myself, Don't cry, don't you even think about crying. Who cares if they have to take him away? He'll be back after everything gets straightened out.

"I can't go into this right now, Groovy," Daddy told me through the crack in the window. His eyes shrank to the size of tiny dots, and his face turned stiff. Quiet floated between us, the kind that makes people uncomfortable when there's nothing to say.

Then he seemed to change his mind about talking, and with a sad voice he said, "Sometimes when you figure out the answer to a problem—something you know you need to fix—it's too late. You know what you have to do, but you've run out of time." His eyes looked at me, but like I wasn't there. "Groovy, listen to me." He put his hand on the window, his fingers smudging the glass. "Things can start out on track, but end up different. I'm sorry." And he looked away before I could say anything.

"Groovy, is your mother at work today?" Officer Miguel asked me.

"Yes, sir," I answered, but it didn't sound like the normal me.

The Year the Swallows Came Early. Copyright © by Kathryn Fitzmaurice. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Kathryn Fitzmaurice once received a book that was inscribed with the prediction that she might become a famous poet like Emily Dickinson. She became a writer for young readers instead, and her very first novel, The Year the Swallows Came Early, has received many honors and accolades. She lives in Monarch Beach, California, with her husband, sons, and faithful canine writing companion, Holly.

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The Year the Swallows Came Early 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Novel_Teen_Book_Reviews More than 1 year ago
In Kathryn Fitzmaurice's book The Year the Swallows Came Early, eleven-year-old Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson loves cooking. She's writing her own cookbook and plans to attend culinary arts school someday if she can afford it. Even her best friend Frankie's stepbrother, who owns a local store, gives her some secret family recipes to go in her special cookbook. Things start going wrong when her daddy is arrested as they're walking through town. Since no one will tell Groovy why, she hurries to her momma's salon to find out. Momma is in no hurry to let Groovy in on the details, but when she finally does explain, the truth breaks Groovy's heart. Groovy's sorrow for her daddy evolves into anger and Groovy turns her back on everything that makes her life special: her friends, her family, and her cooking. Nothing matters anymore. But when life brings unexpected surprises, Groovy discovers that there is more to every story. Sure, sometimes people just mess up, but sometimes the situation is out of their control. Either way, Groovy needs to decide if forgiveness is worth the risk. Having recently read Because of Winn-Dixie, this book felt quite similar. Bother were in first person and about young girls, so I guess that's why. This book is a great deal longer, but easy to read and entertaining. It's a character-driven novel, as well. No edge-of-your-seat action adventure in this one. I liked Groovy and the way she saw the world. I liked how she thought her mama's obsession with horoscopes were just superstitions and didn't apply her mama's believes to her own. I still don't know why her father was in jail. From what I can figure out, what he did was low and selfish, but completely within his rights as Groovy's father. I wish the author would have given me a little bit more there to help with the realism of Groovy's dad's sentencing, because it didn't make any sense to me. My favorite part in the book is when Groovy shows her chocolate-covered strawberries to Marisol, a girl she thought was a bit snobby about her artistic talents. But since Marisol had shared about her love of drawing, Groovy took a chance to reveal a bit of her heart-her love of cooking-and in doing so, Groovy found a great friend. Sometimes friendship is a risk, but isn't it always a risk worth taking? And if that's true, isn't forgiveness a risk worth taking, as well?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is very interesting and i really enjoyed it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A lovely coming of age novel set in an interesting location with believable characters. Contemporary middle grade at its best. This has been on my "to read" list since it came out and I'm sorry it took so long to get around to it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BeagleMomVA More than 1 year ago
Groovy and her friend, Frankie, are affected by the actions their parents take. The two friends learn how to cope, make new friends, and, most importantly, learn how to forgive. This book is appropriate for children ages 10-14.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading this book soon for battle of the books soon excited
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Lisa Fotheringham More than 1 year ago
i love this book. i'm only 11, but i love it!
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TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson dreams of going to cooking school. She plans menus and tries recipes and hopes to be like Betty Crocker.

But the year Groovy turns eleven is the year everything changes. Her daddy is suddenly taken away to jail, her best friend's long-lost mother makes a return, and the trusty faithful swallows that migrate through her town appear early.

Growing up is hard and families can be difficult - and Groovy is learning to expect the unexpected.

Reading THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY was such a delightful treat! Groovy is a strong and lovable character whose growth throughout the story felt real. I felt like I was learning and growing along with Groovy as things were uncovered around her.

Author Kathryn Fitmaurice's writing is like poetry and her story pulled me in. Even though there was a lot packed into the story, the pacing was perfect and each chapter added a wonderful new layer to Groovy's story.

This is a wonderful pick for readers looking for something unexpected.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just stared this book and it is really good. My friend read it and said that was her favorite book. Is the main chariter a boy or a girl.