Saturday, April 11, 2009

Review of The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice. Bowen/HarperCollins, 2009.

Gr. 4 – 6

It’s bad enough that Eleanor Robinson (called “Groovy” by her father and all her friends) has to watch her dad being arrested, but then she learns that her mom is the one who turned him in – for stealing Groovy’s $25,000 inheritance from her grandmother and losing it betting on the wrong horse.

Not only does Groovy’s dream of going to culinary school some day start to look unlikely, but she’s angry at her feckless father, whom she also can’t help missing. Her best friend Frankie is having problems, too – his mom suddenly shows up two years after leaving on what was supposed to be a two-week trip, and Frankie can’t bring himself to forgive her.

Just a few characters in Groovy’s small California town are highlighted – her beauty-stylist mom, Frankie’s stepbrother (and guardian) Luis who runs the Swallow Shop and Ferry, a mysterious street person named Mr. Tom, and a classmate named Marisol, whose ambition matches Groovy’s own. The characterization was the least effective part of the book for me – although all characters certainly felt realistic in both action and speech, no one came alive for me or felt particularly fleshed out or intriguing. Well, except that I wouldn’t mind Luis as a son-in-law. Mr. Tom, with his wise and insightful (though out of left field, as befits a mysterious street person) comments, feels a bit forced, but his physical description is vivid.

The easy tone and fluid writing make reading this book a breezy pleasure; the pace pulls readers along at an even clip. Earthquakes and the return of the San Juan Capistrano swallows, both slightly heavy-handed metaphors in the story, effectively evoke Groovy’s seaside town. Groovy is a likable girl with a huge amount of energy and drive (something I always find awe-inspiring in any person, as I have to fight off the urge to drift lackadaisically through life) who narrates her story with simplicity, immediacy, and insight.

This is a pleasant read that will appeal to kids who enjoy realistic fiction about friends and family.

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