Reading level:Middle Grades
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (May 12, 2011)
ISBN-10: 0399254587Source: ARC from publisher in exchange for an honest review
It’s the summer before seventh grade, and twelve-year-old Raine O’Rourke’s mother suddenly takes a job hours from home at mysterious Sparrow Road—a creepy, dilapidated mansion that houses an eccentric group of artists. While Raine’s mother works as the cook and housekeeper, Raine is left to figure out why she and her mother have really come to Sparrow Road.
At first Raine is wary of the sprawling country estate, and she misses her grandpa Mac and life in Milwaukee terribly. But soon enough, Sparrow Road—with its starry night skies and lively artists, rowboat rides on the lake and bike trips to the nearby town of Comfort—begins to feel like home too, and she wants to know more about it and the children that once lived there.
Together, Raine and her new friend Josie decide to solve the mysteries of Sparrow Road—its haunting history as an orphanage; the secrets of its silent, brooding owner, Viktor; and the odd friendship between Viktor and an aging poet, Lillian. Secrets seem to be everywhere at Sparrow Road, but it’s an unexpected secret from Raine’s own life that changes her forever.
Upon her arrival at Sparrow Road, Raine is greeted by Viktor, the elderly recluse and owner of the sprawling estate. She is also met by his rules for living at Sparrow Road: Do not disturb the artists and no talking until dinner every day of the week, except for Sundays. For a twelve-year-old girl that has been mysteriously pulled from her home in Milwaukee, these rules are hard to accept. Luckily for Raine, Sparrow Road is full of very colorful characters to keep her company. Josie is eccentric and full of energy; an instant favorite of Raine. Lillian is an elderly woman full of kindness and love that helps Raine overcome her homesickness. Then there is Diego. Raine imagines Diego as the father that she never had. His laugh can fill an entire room, and his warm, gentle spirit can calm the roughest of seas.
When Raine finds a drawing of Sparrow Road in the winter time, hidden in the attic of the old house, she is instantly drawn to the mystery that surrounds her summer home. Diego encourages her to find and write the story behind the picture from the attic signed by twelve-year-old Lyman, an orphan living in the house many years ago. By asking “what was or what could be,” Raine begins to write Lyman’s story. What she doesn’t realize is that she is also writing her own in the process.
The characters in Sparrow Road are fantastic. You can picture Josie with her “rainbow colored hair” and patchwork dresses. Lillian’s frailty and age becomes evident through the description of her skin feeling “like a well worn bed sheet.” The physical descriptions of the characters match the personality that is penned for each within the pages of the novel. The author, Sheila O’Conner, does a brilliant job of mixing lively characters with beautiful descriptive language. I fell in love with each and every character, especially Raine. She was wise beyond her twelve years and the (physical) bond that brought her family together.
The stories that entwine at Sparrow Road are not always pleasant stories. There is a considerable degree of sadness that marks the lives of the characters in the story. However, there is a constant reminder of hope—like the charm Raine wears around her neck—that lingers in their lives as well. Sparrow Road is a layered tale of friendship, forgiveness, and what it means to be a family.
"You are a question I will carry through Februaries far into my future."
"Sparrow Road... It was a place for wishing long and dreaming..."
"In my dream you are a lost night."