The Year the Swallows Came Early (2009)
Middle school fiction
2009 Cybils nominee
All Eleanor “Groovy” Robinson has ever wanted was to go to culinary school when she grows up. In the meantime, she spends her days learning new recipes, cooking for her parents, and sharing her dreams with her dad. But when her dad is arrested for spending the money in Groovy’s trust fund, her dreams are shattered.
I must’ve been in that room for a long time. I couldn’t say for sure because there’s no way to track time while trying to understand something completely different about a person you thought was someone else. Especially after years of me saying to people, Oh no, my daddy’s not like that. My daddy’s this, or my daddy’s that.
I’d gone around my whole life believing what he’d told me, like what he’d said was just how things were. Mama had said he’d taken the money, that he’d lost it on a bet, but it wasn’t until I saw his handwriting in the book that it seemed real to me. It wasn’t until I saw for myself all his different ways of trying to win money that I knew how much he’d been lying to me and Mama. (pg. 170)
Groovy isn’t the only one who has to deal with a troubled parent. Her best friend, Frankie, has to deal with the sudden reappearance of his mother who left more than a year ago. There are so many questions that need to be answered and so many things about their lives that’s changing. The only thing that is staying the same for the two kids is the yearly arrival of the sparrows to their small town of San Juan Capistrano, California.
This was a great coming-of-age story about forgiveness, change, and love. Both Frankie and Groovy have to reflect and decide whether or not they’re going to forgive their parents or harbor that anger and let it change who they are and who they can be in the future. After her father’s arrest Groovy goes from being called “Groovy” to Eleanor when she realizes that she’s no longer the same person. Frankie tries to hold on to his anger instead of forgiving his mother for her disappearance.
Groovy is a great character, one of my favorites this year. She’s honest and insightful about the people around her. You couldn’t help but want to know more about her from the book’s great opening paragraph,
We lived in a perfect stucco house, just off the sparkly Pacific, with a lime tree in the backyard and pink and yellow roses gone wild around a picket fence. But that wasn’t enough to keep my daddy from going to jail the year I turned eleven. I told my best friend, Frankie, that it was hard to tell what something was like on the inside just by looking at the outside. And that our house was like one of those See’s candies with beautiful swirled chocolate on the outside, but sometimes hiding coconut flakes on the inside, all gritty and hard, like undercooked white rice.