Review: Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin

A couple of months ago, I won a copy of Molly Beth Griffin’s Silhouette of a Sparrow through a giveaway hosted by Laura at BookSnob. Thanks to an incredibly stormy 4-day weekend with plenty of reading time, I finally got around to this one. This book also completed my “book a week” reading goal that I began at the start of the year!

Title: Silhouette of a Sparrow
Author: Molly Beth Griffin
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Released: September 2012
Source: publisher (giveaway)

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In the summer of 1926, sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is sent to a lake resort to escape the polio epidemic in the city. She dreams of indulging her passion for ornithology and visiting the famous new amusement park–a summer of fun before she returns for her final year of high school, after which she’s expected to marry a nice boy and settle into middle-class homemaking. But in the country, Garnet finds herself under the supervision of equally oppressive guardians–her father’s wealthy cousin and the matron’s stuck-up daughter. Only a liberating job in a hat shop, an intense, secret relationship with a daring and beautiful flapper, and a deep faith in her own fierce heart can save her from the suffocating boredom of traditional femininity.

This coming of age story is geared for ages 12 and up, with a 16-year-old protagonist. It has strong historical fiction overtones as well, being chock full of insights into American life during the 1920’s: prohibition, racism, social status, and the culture of flappers. It also provides a unique and sensitive look into the lives of women who weren’t happy with the traditional roles expected of them at the time (not encouraged to read or pursue science, not working because it would make their husbands “look bad”), but who didn’t want to completely leave tradition behind. Something occurs late in the book that gently reminds readers why equal rights and the changing roles of women that occurred during this decade were so vital.

I love how carefully Molly Beth Griffin presents the time period. The novel reads in a slightly old-fashioned way, but very subtly so (for example, describing a hat as “smart”). It is perfectly balanced: it feels authentic, yet still reads in a manner relevant and accessible to modern (especially young) readers.

Griffin speaks to the heart of this age group and taps into the yearnings and turmoil and challenges adolescents experience. She understands they want to be seen, they want to be uniquely themselves, they want to challenge and push societal norms they may find outdated or irrelevant, but they so often want to figure out how to do these things within the context of the world around them. Garnet is a perfect example: she loves science and reading and learning, yet expertly uses the more “acceptable” and “feminine” art of paper cutting to satisfy her desire to pursue these interests. This compromise was good enough as a child, but she finds herself at a crossroads as she approaches young adulthood.

Garnet has a summer romance with a flapper, and I liked that this relationship came about in a very natural way. It is simply part of the story and in no way feels as if it was inserted merely for shock value or as a political statement. I think this aspect of the book will fill a gap for many readers. There is also a pivotal moment when a minor character in the story becomes Garnet’s confidante and champion, and that had me cheering to the very end.

Silhouette of a Sparrow is well-written with a lovely setting, and gives its readers fresh, unique variations on a typical coming of age story.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher after winning a giveaway on the BookSnob blog. There was no obligation to read or review the book; this is my honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.

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