Children’s Book Blog Tour – The Year the Swallows came Early, a Review

Those interested in voting for the CSFF Blog Tour’s February Top Blogger, can find the necessary information here.

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As part of the Children’s Book Blog Tour, I am happy to feature The Year the Swallows Came Early, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice. This is a middle grade novel with a girl protagonist, a coming of age story—quite frankly, not a book I would usually be drawn to. But if you read my post yesterday, you already know the main character quickly drew me in.

The Story. If you visit here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction and have read some of my other reviews, you know I hate to give a story away. Part of the fun of reading, as I see it, is discovering What Will Happen Next. Summaries, by definition, encapsulate the story, but for those of us who don’t want to know how it turns out before we start on page one, summaries can kill our interest before we start. Not everyone feels the same way. Some people (horror! – 😮 ) even read the last page first! If by some (sorry) chance – 😉 – you fall into this category, I refer you to some of the other blogs on the tour that did a good job of summarizing the story: Dolce Bellezza’s Day 1 post or Cafe of Dreams’ Day 2 post. Here’s my shorter version.

Groovy Robinson’s world turns upside down the day her father is arrested, in no small part because her mother won’t answer her questions. At least not at first. When she does explain, she creates more questions than she answers, and eventually Groovy wonders who she can believe, who she can trust. At a point of despair, she discovers that all is not as it seems and people are both more and less than what they appear to be. In the end, she must decide if she can forgive … or not.

Strengths. Certainly characterization has to rank high on the list of good things to like in this book. Not just Groovy, either. Although Groovy’s father spends nearly the entire book in jail, I come away feeling like I know him so well. Groovy’s mother takes center stage more and also comes into clear focus as a believable character—one with her own problems and quirks and needs, but also as one who loves her daughter very, very much.

Best friend Frankie is also beautifully drawn, especially because his story mirrors what Groovy experiences. (I’ve seen this done, or should I say, overdone, in an obvious, distracting way, but Ms. Fitzmaurice avoids stumbling here. In fact, Groovy having identified Frankie’s problem earlier makes her own situation and decisions much more poignant).

Then there are the minor characters like Pastor Ken, Marisol, Felix, Luis, and Mr. Tom who add much more than background color. They are integal to Groovy’s development. And they are each believably drawn.

As much as I liked the characters, I give equal praise to the story. I kept reading because there was tension, and conflict. I had questions I wanted to discover answers for. I cared about Groovy and wanted to know how things turned out for her. Ms. Fitzmaurice did a masterful job telling a masterful story.

This book is also a great example of weaving themes into the story. Without whipping out an explanatory speech, Ms. Fizmaurice showed Groovy’s changes, her mother’s changes, her father’s changes, and ultimately Frankie’s changes, all reinforcing themes of love and trust and forgiveness and mercy and not judging from outward appearances.

I even have some favorite lines. Here’s one:

And here’s what I thought: I wished I’d never found what was in that box because feeling mad at Daddy was a million times worse than feeling sad.

Little truth statements like that, observed as from a child’s perspective, are powerful.

Weaknesses. I’ve got one tiny thing here. I wouldn’t normally mention it, but I don’t have anything else, and I believe in giving a balanced review. Early in the story, afternoon fog rolls in. It’s mentioned on page 43 and again on 48, 56, 58, 60, 61, 63, 72, and 90. Then that same night, with no warning, Groovy and her mom are walking home and look up at the stars. Groovy says all she could see was the Little Dipper though she knew her mom could name all the stars. My first thought was, what happened to the fog? Maybe a wind came up, but we aren’t told so. It’s a small thing, but it jerked me out of the story for one brief moment.

Addendum. Well, now I have to backtrack on the weakness. A closer reading shows that I shouldn’t have been surprised by the stars being out: “… she raised her fists high toward the lone stars peering through the leftover fog in the dark sky.”

I even thought about this after posting the review, how the fog had mirrored Groovy’s confusion and lack of understanding why her dad had been arrested, then after her mother tells the story they come out to a starry sky. If I hadn’t missed the “leftover fog” line, I would have thought the use of fog quite mood enhancing. The weakness was mine, not the story’s.

Recommendation. Needless to say, I think The Year the Swallows Came Early is an outstanding book. It is a must read for women, for girls, for middle grade children. I highly recommend it to dads.

Take time to see what others on the tour are saying:

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