Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin is the story of Garnet, a teenage ornithology enthusiast who spends a transformative summer in a lakeside town. Set in 1926, Silhouette of a Sparrow combines captivating historical detail with realistic characters and emotions while keeping it all on a believable, relatable scale. I was drawn in immediately by the writing, which has a unique voice without edging into caricature. Garnet is very relatable: she considers herself to be a regular girl, even plain, but any threat of the boredom that sometimes accompanies these types of characters is averted by her intricately described interests. She’s passionately in love with birds, and she notices them everywhere, cutting silhouettes of them out of paper because her mother approves of that hobby over her childhood outdoor explorations.
Garnet has to navigate several things during her summer in Excelsior, Minnesota: the relatives she’s staying with consider her to be poor and low-class in comparison to themselves, but they have their own secrets; she left behind her father, a veteran who came home unable to adapt to life away from the war, and her mother, who is desperately trying to keep the family together; Garnet takes a part-time job in a shop, confronting both the bias against working women and environmental conservation issues that are close to her heart; and her drive to be independent and enjoy her last summer before graduating (and marrying) leads her to meet Isabella, a dancer who flaunts numerous social conventions. All of the subplots wind together to make a full story, and none of them are left hanging or unfinished.
Garnet’s developing relationship with Isabella is one of the highlights of the story for me (I admit I equally adore all the bird imagery, which has tendrils running through the whole book). Their courtship progresses slowly and sweetly. Garnet and Isabella get to know each other gradually, each revealing their fears and hopes as they grow more comfortable with each other. I love that Garnet doesn’t consider her romantic feelings for Isabella to be wrong – she’s worried about what her family would think, but she seems just as concerned that Isabella’s reputation, instead of her gender, will be the cause of the disapproval. Another thing that satisfies me with this novel is that the relationship between Garnet and Isabella isn’t the main focus – Silhouette of a Sparrow is about Garnet’s development from someone who doesn’t know what she wants to someone who does, and who finds within herself the strength to go after her dreams. Her relationship with Isabella is integral to this development, but it isn’t the core of the story. It’s a lesbian romance not simply for the sake of romance, but as part of the lives of what feel like real people.