Just under 6 hours left in my allotted timeframe for the 48 Hour Book Challenge. So far I have read/blogged for 10 hours and finished 4 books, plus am halfway through an audiobook. Husband is headed out of the house soon with the toddler to give me a little extra peace and quiet for the last leg of the challenge. I have to say, this has not been easy - even though I'd planned to read for most of the day today, a rare-for-us sunny morning could not be ignored, so we headed off for a bike ride instead. And of course any time I would sit down on the couch in Sprout's eye-view it meant he had to come over and ask "Whatcha reading?" and then bring me his own selection of books to read ("This is better book," he says solemnly).
But I have to say, what I've read has been truly outstanding. Of the four books it's hard to pick a favorite, but Sheila O'Connor's Sparrow Road is definitely a contender. I hadn't heard much about this title before I picked it up but knowing that it was set in a falling-down mansion that once held an orphanage peaked my interest. But lest you think that this is a gothic tale, it's not -- Sparrow Road is very much contemporary and deals with modern-day situations and sensibilities.
Raine O'Rourke is blindsided by her mother's sudden announcement that they are leaving their Milwaukee home and spending the summer at Sparrow Road, an artists colony held in the aforementioned creepy old home. Sparrow Road is located precisely in the middle of nowhere, and Raine's less than excited to be stuck out in the country for several months. Stranger still, her mother keeps entirely mum on just why they are there. And the rules - silence until supper, no interacting with the artists and no leaving the grounds without Mama. Raine can hardly stand it and plans to leave at the first opportunity.
But then she meets Lillian, the sweet poet whose elderly mind seems locked permanently in the past. And Josie, the energetic bohemian and Diego, the charming artist who seems enchanted with both Raine and her mama. These incredible people are more than enough to make Raine suddenly start seeing Sparrow Road in a new way. All that and a mystery too - Raine soon discovers that Sparrow Road once housed dozens of orphans, some of whom seem to still be connected to this haunting place. And then there's Mama, and her mysterious trips to town with Viktor, Sparrow Road's creepy caretaker. . . Raine hardly knows which rocks to start uncovering first.
O'Connor does a masterful job of integrating Raine's own history and struggle for identity with that of the other residents of Sparrow Road, both past and present. She deals head-on with issues related to loss and longing for parents, in the orphans that once lived in the home and in Raine's own missing father. Children who have themselves experienced a tragic loss, or who have grown up without knowing one or both of their parents will find their stories reflected in this novel, and may have some of their own feelings resolved by following Raine's journey. At the very least, they will have a touchstone to know they are not alone.
This is O'Connor's first foray into kidlit but I hope not her last - not only does she exhibit a deft hand with plot and character development, she also sets a scene that makes the reader feel compelled to turn pages. I thoroughly enjoyed Sparrow Road, and I'm incredibly glad I included it as part of my 48 Hour Book Challenge.
Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Sample: "It was a boy's voice I imagined, a boy's voice speaking in my daydream. A story, just like Diego promised. A boy I'd never seen, but there he was. In old wool pants that hung below his knees, scuffed ankle boots, a flannel shirt rolled up at the sleeves. A boy who lived up in that attic. His skinny lower legs were nicked and scarred. His face was round, his eyes the same grassy green as Mama's. / Life just has a way, he said. I think you must know what I mean. Even parents can get lost."