Estelle: Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
Publisher:  Milkweed Editions
Pages: 224
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: historical fiction, coming of age, summer, LGBT
Format read: ARC from Edelweiss (Thanks!)

Summary: Garnet is looking forward to spending a few summer weeks of 1926 with some distant relatives at a lake resort. Her freedom from the pressures at home allows her to rekindle her passion of birds and nature, while her adventurous spirit and plans for the future take a surprising turn when she befriends a flapper.

This is going to sound like a strange comparison, but I couldn’t help thinking this as I read through Silhouette of a Sparrow. Dirty Dancing is one of my favorite movies for many reasons but when I was a kid I most identified with Baby’s need to do something out of her comfort zone and to have her own secrets. Her life was always so dictated by her father that it was no surprise that she wanted to spend some extracurricular time with Johnny Castle, dancing dances and hanging out with people her father would have never approved of. It wasn’t even because she wanted to defy anyone… she wanted to be her own person and make her own decisions. And she did.

Garnet Richardson, a 16-year-old spending the summer of 1926 with distant family in a lake resort, is so similar. She has a natural curiosity, and is looking forward to a summer of freedom, away from her mother’s hovering and her father’s unfortunate depression (brought on by his time fighting in World War I). She struggles with being the proper “lady” her mother (and society) tells her she needs to be and the tomboy, bird loving gal who may not want marriage and children immediately but a college degree and a career.

Griffin is a beautiful writer; she captures the natural details of this lake setting so perfectly, especially because Garnet cannot help but notice these little details herself. She has memorized so many facts about birds, a hobby that her and her father once shared, and is always prepared with a pair of scissors in her pocket to cut out silhouettes of the birds she sees and write their Latin name behind them. Can you see how quirky and wonderful Garnet is? I loved her spunk and her excitement and her observations about the world.

Her summer takes an unexpected turn when Isabelle, a flapper, trots into the hat store where she has taken a job. Garnet is immediately taken with her and embarks on a secret relationship that has her questioning the meaning of love and why there are rules about certain people partaking in these relationships together. I loved how Garnet discovered a little bit about herself, and also found a piece that had been missing, as she got to know Isabelle better. (“I thought about egrets and fathers and aunts and beautiful girls in pants and I thought about how many kinds of love there are in the world.”)

A few big happenings occur when Garnet is away from her family, and I think the entire summer gives her a courage she didn’t think she needed when she left. In true coming-of-age style, Silhouette of a Sparrow feels comparable to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and lives and breathes with so many of the same predicaments we hit time and time again in modern times (or since the dawn of time?): we cannot choose who we love. Women are more than cooks in the kitchen and should be the decision makers when it comes to their path in life. Do our own desires outweigh the obligations we feel to our family?

I fell deeply into Griffin’s language and her wonderful characterization but my one gripe was the screeching halt of an ending. I would have loved a little bit more; maybe even retracting and touching upon a few of the tiny tiny storylines happening back at home. But this strong young adult YA with lovely writing and a charismatic main character make for an enchanting reading experience. Through each happy and exhilarating experience, and even the more raw and painful occurrences, I was truly living in the moment with Garnet from page 1. She’s a grounded, multi-layered, imperfect and valiant female protagonist that we need to see more of in the literary world.

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