With a cover as strong as Silhouette of a Sparrow‘s, I immediately have high expectations for the story within. And although the cover gives me a bit of a creepy vibe that I don’t get from the book itself, the story definitely lives up to my expectations of quality. Silhouette of a Sparrow takes place in the 1920s, and the protagonist, Garnet, is doing her best to navigate the practically Victorian values of her family and the rapidly changing, flapper culture of 1920s America. It is interesting to compare the setting of this book to Ellis Avery’s The Last Nude, which takes place in 1920s France. The dialogue of the characters could pretty easily be spoken in current times, which sometimes made me forget about the time period, but ultimately I think kept it from seeming too old-fashioned or gimmicky.
I loved Garnet as a character. She is very believable, and I really felt for her struggle to stay true to herself as well as her family. I think often we value individualism so much that we can be dismissive of people or characters who may be willing to sacrifice some of their freedom in order to be loyal to their family, but I thought Garnet’s struggle was portrayed very sympathetically, without casting her mother as a villain for wanting Garnet to get married and help support them.
I also really liked the ongoing bird theme of the book. Garnet cuts out silhouettes of birds she sees: a suitably feminine way to pursue her passion for ornithology. Each chapter is named after a bird with the corresponding silhouette above the chapter title. That bird is one that relates to a theme or a character in that chapter, and this is skillfully incorporated without, again, seeming like a gimmick. Garnet’s hobby of cutting out silhouettes is also used artistically later on as a metaphor for her attempt to find the edges of herself, to determine where she ends and her family, obligations, etc begin.
The love story is also really sweet, though really more of a subplot, in my opinion–as emily m danforth would say, this is about Garnet’s coming of gayge, not coming out. Garnet falls for a flapper girl, Isabella, who is beautiful, mysterious, and shows Garnet new possibilities for her life. [spoiler] I appreciated the realistic ending, as well, which emphasized that although Garnet and Isabella played an important role in each other’s life at that time, that doesn’t mean that they are now going to live happily ever after together. I liked that Griffin left it pretty open about whether they will end up back together or not. [/spoiler]
I haven’t even really mentioned what I usually consider the most important factor in a book: the writing. Most of the writing is pretty straight forward and furthers the story without distracting me from it, which is all I really ask for in a book. Often, though, the writing is downright poetic. Take the opening lines:
I was born blue. Life ripped me early from my safe place and thrust me into the world. It was all so astonishing 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.
I kept having to stop to scribble down quotes I wanted to post later on the Lesbrary tumblr.
Silhouette of a Sparrow is, obviously, a keeper, and I will be adding it to the shortlist of lesbian teen books I can recommend with no reservations. I hope to see more from Molly Beth Griffin soon.