WINNER OF THE MILKWEED PRIZE FOR CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
WINNER OF THE 2013 PATERSON PRIZE FOR BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS
ALA RAINBOW LIST RECOMMENDED BOOK
AMELIA BLOOMER PROJECT LIST RECOMMENDED BOOK
LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FINALIST
MINNESOTA BOOK AWARD FINALIST
FOREWARD REVIEWS BOOK OF THE YEAR HONORABLE MENTION
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.
About the Author
Molly Beth Griffin is the recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Grant, a graduate of Hamline University's MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and a writing teacher at the Loft Literary Center in the Twin Cities. Her first picture book, Loon Baby, came out with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2011. Silhouette of a Sparrow is her first novel.
“The purpose of a love story is to fuel change”: Five Questions with Molly Beth Griffin by Will Wlizlo on 08/28/2012
It’s 1926 and sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is off to spend the summer in a Minnesota resort town. What seems at first a hum-drum vacation quickly becomes dramatic: Garnet starts her first job, uncovers secrets about her family’s finances, and stumbles into an unanticipated romance with a young flapper from the local dance hall.
Equal parts coming-of-age tale and historical fiction, Molly Beth Griffin’s Silhouette of a Sparrow is a fresh take on the wonders and woes of adolescence. Here, Griffin talks about teenage love, stirring up childhood memories by writing, and the Roaring Twenties in the Midwest.
Milkweed Editions: Garnet’s struggle to identify her feelings for the dancer Isabella perfectly encapsulates the awkwardness of adolescence, and her attraction to another girl makes the experience even more poignant. Why did you write about such a nontraditional teenage love story?
Molly Beth Griffin: In a novel, as in life, the purpose of a love story is to fuel change. And change comes about when something surprising lifts us out of ourselves. The more surprising that something is, the more powerful it can be. Most stories about GLBT characters focus on the “coming out” aspect, and although I think that has a placeit’s clearly an issue queer kids deal withit shouldn’t be the only kind of book out there. Garnet’s is a love storya story in which unexpected love forces a young woman to see herself differently, and become the person she wants to be.
Garnetsomething of an amateur ornithologistkeeps herself busy by cutting paper silhouettes of birds she sees in the wild. Her two hobbies are vastly different, but speak to her personality: reserved, yet rebellious. How do bird watching and papercutting shape Garnet’s world?
With most true passions, there are ways to give a nod to one’s desires without really committing to themto do what you love and yet stay within the confines of what is expected of you. And there is a place for that. For instance, we artists have to make our art but also find ways to put dinner on the table. But we have to be careful, because it is so easy to let the shreds of our passions become enough, when they aren’t enough. Garnet could cling to the acceptable version of what she wants, but would she ever be happy? And she could abandon the world of duty entirely, but that would come at a cost as well. Garnet’s silhouettes satisfy her and limit her at the same time, and create for her the line she must learn to tread ever so carefully.
Silhouette of a Sparrow is colored by many social and historical issues, from gender and race inequality to the economic dynamics of the ’20s. As Garnet confronts these challenges, we find ourselves applauding her conviction. Where does Garnet’s strength in perspective come from?
Molly Beth Griffin: I think she is a much stronger person than she’d ever admit to being, endowed with a great moral conviction that stems from empathy for both humans and animals. And although her parents aren’t always presented in the best light in the book, I do think that her mother’s fierceness and her father’s kind heart had a part in forming her. In fiction and in life, what we struggle with is usually what makes us who we arewe can then, in turn, overcome those issues that formed us.
What makes historic Excelsior, Minnesota, the right locale for Garnet’s wild summer?
It, like her, was simultaneously placid and adventurous. It was a tranquil resort town filled with middle-class vacationers, and the home of reckless amusement park rides and a rowdy dance hall appealing to the raucous teenage crowd of the Roaring Twenties. Garnet could go there expecting one thing, and find herself encountering something very different; she could go there one person, and leave someone else.
Did writing Garnet’s story stir up memories of your own childhood? What, if anything, did she teach you about your younger self?
I got to relive my hometown experience through Garnet, colored by a very different time. And I had to move through my own vocational trajectory of high school and college, culminating in my deeply satisfying immersion in an MFA program and the beginning of my writing career. This novel is an attempt to tell my young self not to doubt my passions, not to settle for less, not to choose the safest path but instead challenge myself to take risks and commit to doing what I love.
Molly Beth Griffin is the author of the recently published YA novel Silhouette of a Sparrow, as well as the picture book, Loon Baby (Houghton Mifflin, 2011).
Milkweed Editions intern Rosie Szychalski assisted with this article.
Read an Excerpt
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
I was born blue. Life ripped me early from my safe place and thrust me into the world. It was all so astonishing that I forgot to breathe.
But the puffed-up robin that sang outside the window of the birthing room came early too, that March of 1910, and just in time. He flew north before the spring came so he could sing me into the world. His song said Breathe child, this life was meant for you. When I finally let out my first scream I flushed red as that robinred: the color of life, blood, love, and fury. At that moment I earned my name, Garnet, after the deep red stone that’s meant to bring courage. “Garnet, for courage,” Aunt Rachel, the midwife, said to me, when I was just a squalling baby.
My mother gave me life that day, but I was the one who decided to take it. I claimed it for myself.
That’s how the story goes. At least, that’s the way Aunt Rachel told it to me a hundred times over, even after I knew it by heart. That’s the version I asked to hear again and again as a child, so I could wrap those pretty words around me like a familiar blanket and fall asleep thinking I knew exactly who I was.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
Beautifully written story about a girl struggling with her identity, and falling in love genuinely for the first time. Some of the descriptions were so lovely, I found myself whispering them to myself over and over. A couple of the characters who at first seemed flat, soon became more real as Garnet's eyes began to open. Garnet's story unfolds realistically, and in such a way that will inspire readers to take a closer look at themselves, and the world around them. I myself appreciated the afterword where the author informs us on which parts of the book were fact, and which were fiction. Silhouette of a Sparrow is a book I felt bittersweet about finishing, and I would recommend it to anyone.
SILHOUETTE OF A SPARROW by Molly Beth Griffin is about a 16 year old girl and bird lover named Garnet. Garnet leaves for the summer to stay with a wealthy family. A young girl of 16 she has alot to think about, school, marriage and work. While on vacation Garnet meets a girl Isabella who helps her find her true identity. A great young adult fiction.reviewed by Rae Rating 4.5 Heat rating MILD
My stars are in the middle solely because of the writing itself; otherwise, I'd give it two stars. While the writing is beautiful and multi-layered, the novel is somewhat preachy and more contemporary to 2013 than I think is realistic. Plus, parents need to know that this is a very lesbian novel with a strong, fairly graphic (and revolting) sex scene (stopping short at specifics), and for a girl raised in a Christian society and family (at least, that's what I gathered), I found it odd that she did not deal with any moral struggle in her relationship with Isabella. This is normal, perhaps, for this era but it doesn't seem realistic for 1927.