Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Year the Swallows Came Early, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Eleven-year-old Groovy Robinson knows her passion in life: cooking. Her fondest wish is to attend cooking school when she grows up and become a real chef. When, in the opening scene, her father is arrested by Officer Miguel as father and daughter walk down the street (and just the two words "Officer Miguel" signal the small-town, multicultural setting -- this cop is a friend!) that's a horrifying enough change in her life. But Groovy doesn't know the half of it. Her mother puts off telling her, for as long as she can, that she called the police to have him arrested, because he had withdrawn from the bank $25,000 left to Groovy by her grandmother, a sum counted on to pay for cooking school, and lost it betting on the horses. The rest of the book traces Groovy's journey to finding alternative ways to reach her dream, and ultimately to forgiveness.

Groovy (who early on rejects this nickname from her father in favor of her real name, Eleanor) is a likable character, and I enjoyed the depth of the secondary characters as well. "There's more to people than meets the eye" is an important theme in this book. The mother seems shallow and the father doting, yet it's the mother who comes through and the father who fails her. Marisol, a snooty, seriously gifted artist, becomes a friend. The mother of her best friend Frankie, back after an unexplained two-year absence, had left to protect Frankie because of trouble with her green card, and Luis, Frankie's stepbrother, is barely out of his teens yet a more stable presence for both children than any of the parents.

This is a quiet novel, a heartwarming novel, a novel with layers, and a novel of the type that gets Newbery attention. Ultimately, it says that forgiveness is the only way to not put a stopper in your life. I think Groovy's story says something else, too, something that's shown, not told, and that may be difficult to accept: No matter who else makes a difference in your life (Luis) -- and those differences can be powerful -- kids' worlds rise and fall on the parents.

17 comments:

Andrea Vlahakis said...

I've read this, and liked it. But I agree it falls short, which is disappointing because I wanted it soar. I think you're right about the scaffolding. Mostly, it was the mother that annoyed me because too often I felt the book was about her, not Groovy.

Vijaya said...

I'm intrigued enough to pick up this book ...

Marcia said...

Andrea -- Yeah, the mother annoyed me, too. I guess my overall feeling was what I said in the post: the part about Groovy feeling her mother's love more and more just didn't convince me.

Vijaya -- Overall, it's a fine read.

Julie Musil said...

I saw this author speak at a conference, and I've wanted to pick up the book ever since. It's still on my reading list.

Anne Spollen said...

I know exactly what you mean about the scaffolding. Still, the writing sounds decent and I like the story line (but not the nickname - my teachers used that word when I was in elementary school and that was 40 years ago...)

I'll probably read this one anyway. Thanks for the review!

Marcia said...

Julie -- There's a lot to like in the book. I bet you'll enjoy it. I did.

Anne -- I think it's a good book with minor flaws. The nickname threw me off at first; I thought it was going to be historical. But through most of the book she's Eleanor, and that definitely made me think contemporary. It's a stylish name parents are using now.

Stephanie Theban said...

This has been on my list to read. Thanks for reminding me. I'll try to have an open mind when I read it. I'd like to see a "quiet" story that works.

Marcia said...

Stephanie -- Totally agree that I love to see quiet stories work!

Mary Witzl said...

Great review. As a writer who always pays too much attention to parents, I need to hear this sort of criticism.

I had exactly the same reaction to 'groovy' which struck me as terribly dated. For what it's worth, from what my kids (15 and 19) say, there has been a modest revival of 'groovy' among the quirkiest, edgiest kids their age. Strange, isn't it? Let's hope it stays on the edges!

Marcia said...

Mary -- Wow, imagine groovy making a comeback. It seems it might be tougher than ever these days to "get rid of the parents," doesn't it? What with helicopter- and super-parenting? No running outside from dawn to dusk with a pit stop for lunch like back in the day. :)Taking the parents off the scene believably can be a challenge in contemporary fiction.

Laura Pauling said...

It is def. hard to get all the pieces in the right place so everything is believable!

Christina Farley said...

Sounds like a lovely story. And I got my book from you today! Thank you so much. Can't wait to cuddle up on the couch and read it.

Angela Ackerman said...

It's amazing--I have read so many 'cooking focused' books lately. And I won a bunch of MG arcs, and 3/9 were to do with cooking on some way or another.

Sounds like a good one!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Nora MacFarlane said...

Thanks for the review. I'm not sure if this one is my flavor, but my daughter might like it.

Marcia said...

Laura -- Isn't it, though? I'm reminded again just what a delicate balancing act it is.

Christina -- Glad the book arrived safe and sound. Enjoy!

Angela -- Wow. A cooking trend? Hmmm, I'll have to watch for that.

Nora -- I hope your daughter enjoys it. I'm glad when quiet books succeed.

Katie L. Carroll (KT) said...

I've also had this on my to-read list. I'm more intrigued than ever by the review and comments. I guess I'll have to finally just carve out the time to read it.

Marcia said...

Enjoy it, Katie. :)