Saturday, February 22, 2020

Silhouette of a Sparrow: YA Lesbian Historical Novel About Following Dreams

I don't know what led me to Silhouette of a Sparrow, the only YA novel by children's fiction writer, Molly Beth Griffin. It is a book that I needed to read.  So whatever the source was, I'm grateful to have discovered it.


I must have been drawn to this book by the cover which is quite extraordinary resembling some prehistorical image of a bird woman rooted in nature.  Then I must have read the description which identified it as taking place in the Roaring 1920's, a favorite period of mine which began exactly a hundred years ago.  The fact that Garnet Richardson, the 16 year old female protagonist, loves birds and wants to become an ornithologist made the novel seem unusual and intriguing.  This aspect of the book also was appealing to me as someone who is concerned about the non-human species with which we share our planet.

It belongs on this blog because there are strong women who assist Garnet in recognizing that she has the right to claim a future for herself.

The most significant of these women is 18 year old Isabella, the courageous dance hall performer labeled as a "harlot".  Isabella knew that she had to dance, and that if she had to break society's rules to do that, so be it.

Other women who helped to change the way Garnet thought about her life were Miss Maple, her summer employer, and her unconventional Aunt Rachel who never actually appears in the narrative.  Both of them served as examples that caused Garnet to realize that a woman could choose not to marry.

This is also a lesbian romance, but not one with a traditional HEA ending. I felt that the relationship between Garnet and Isabella had emotional intensity despite its brevity.  Would they ever come back together?  It's a possibility.  The future of these fictional characters is unknown unless Molly Beth Griffin chooses to revisit their lives in another book. Without that sequel, Garnet and Isabella remain frozen for us at the point where the author left them behind in the summer of 1926.

The advantage of never advancing this narrative beyond 1926 is that Garnet can retain the optimism for which the Roaring Twenties are known in order to inspire other readers of Silhouette of a Sparrow as I have been. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Girls With No Names: Historical Novel About Wayward Girls

The Girls With No Names by Serena Burdick is the first book I've read that was published in 2020.  It's also my first digital review copy from Net Galley of the year.   I noticed a similarity to Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate which I liked very much and reviewed here. I was also drawn to Burdick's novel because it takes place in Inwood, a Manhattan neighborhood where I lived for four years in the late 20th century (though I should point out that the book takes place in the early 20th century.) Yet it was the reference to suffragettes  in the Goodreads description and the reference to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in the publisher's publicity which caused me to decide that I needed to review it for this blog.  It sounded like this novel could be a locus for intersecting feminist concerns.   So I accepted the publisher's request.  My honest reactions to The Girls With No Names can be found in this review.


Although the main protagonists are teens, I wouldn't describe The Girls With No Names as a YA novel.  This book deals with the girls' coming of age under dire circumstances which involve mature themes that may be disturbing to some readers.

I found thirteen year old Effie remarkably brave when she comes to believe that she needs to rescue her sister from an institution with a rather horrific reputation called the House of Mercy.

I was also impressed with a girl that Effie encounters at the House of Mercy known as Mable.  Mable's tragic experiences  before her arrival at this home for wayward girls are portrayed movingly in flashback chapters.

 The Girls With No Names turned out not to have a primary focus on women's suffrage. Still,  the book does include a real suffragette who is a minor character playing a pivotal role.  Her name is Inez Milholland.  I've linked her Wikipedia article because I think readers might want to know more about this woman activist. Milholland's Wikipedia article includes a public domain photo of her which I am reproducing below:


 There are Romanii characters in The Girls With No Names.  Burdick tells us in her Afterword that they are called gypsies in the first person narratives taking place in 1913 in order to be consistent with usage in that period.  She is aware that Romani consider "gypsy" offensive, but Burdick isn't trying to offend. She just wants to be historically accurate. I was fascinated to learn from the Afterword that Burdick had discovered from her research that Romani really had camped in the Inwood area during this period.

 I mostly liked the way the Romani were shown, but I did think that one element in their portrayal was anachronistic.  Effie got a Tarot reading at their camp which she regarded as significant.  The interpretation of the cards that appeared in the reading was similar to current day Neo Pagan Tarot readers.  So I considered it doubtful that an early 20th century Romani would approach the cards that way.

Despite the critical comment in the above paragraph,  I identified with both Effie and Mable and considered The Girls With No Names a powerful work of fiction.