Summary: Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson loves cooking and plans to go to culinary school just as soon as she's old enough. But even Groovy's thoughtfully—planned menus won't fix the things that start to go wrong the year she turns eleven—suddenly, her father is in jail, her best friend's long-absent mother reappears, and the swallows that make their annual migration to her hometown arrive surprisingly early. As Groovy begins to expect the unexpected, she learns about the importance of forgiveness, understands the complex stories of the people around her, and realizes that even an earthquake can't get in the way of a family that needs to come together.
Kathryn Fitzmaurice's lovely debut novel is distinctively Californian in its flavor. Her rich characters and strong sense of place feel both familiar and fresh at first meeting—and worth revisiting, again and again. -- The Bowen Press/Harper Collins Children
I absolutely adored the middle grade novel THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY by Kathryn Fitzmaurice. This book tells the story of Groovy, a young girl whose life is turned upside-down after her father is arrested. I was so caught up with Groovy's story that I read the book in one sitting. It was such a beautiful story that truly touched my heart.
One of the main reasons that I enjoyed this book so much was the character of Groovy. The story was told in first person narrative by Groovy, and her insights into her life (and the lives of others) were just wonderful. I couldn't help but fall in love with her, and my heart broke because she was forced to grow up so fast. After her father (whom she idolized) was taken away and put in jail, she realized true disappointment. And she definitely learned the hard way that people aren't always what they seem. That's a hard lesson to learn at any age but especially for a young girl.
Not only did I love the character of Groovy, but I also loved her friends in this novel. Each one of her friends in this story supported her and showed her what a true friend is. I especially liked her best friend Frankie and his step-brother and guardian Luis. Like Groovy, Frankie had to learn to accept and forgive his mother -- faults and all. And I loved how Luis provide some stability in these children's lives. He always seemed to say or do the right thing, and I loved how he used cooking, Groovy's passion, to help her cope.
Another thing I really appreciated in this novel was how the author incorporated the return of the birds of Capistrano each year. The return of the birds to their hometown was something these children could always count on when they had so much uncertainty in their lives. I also like how young readers can learn about this amazing event and even pursue further study of the Story of San Juan Capistrano's Mission Swallows outside of this book.
There were so many beautiful themes in this novel, but the ones that really stood out for me were compassion and forgiveness. While the young characters in this novel had to deal with so much heartache, these disappointment also taught them a great deal about people. They discovered that adults aren't always perfect; and even though their parents made many mistakes, it didn't mean that their parents didn't love them.
I am incredibly impressed with author Kathryn Fitzmaurice's story-telling abilities, especially since THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY is her first novel. Ms. Fitzmaurice is a former teacher and I can definitely tell from this book that she truly "gets" kids. If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Fitzmaurice, she has a beautiful website as well as a blog. (I love that her site includes a page on advice for young writers.) In addition, there is a very interesting article about what inspired her to write this novel. I have a feeling (and really hope) that we will be seeing a lot more of her and her books in the future!
As many of my regular readers know, my nine year old daughter and I belong to a Mother-Daughter book club that meets monthly. I think THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY would make a fantastic future selection for us -- moms and daughters both would enjoy it! Not only is the story wonderful, but there are so many things for young people to talk about with each other. There are discussion questions available to help keep your meeting focused -- I can speak from experience when I say that it is sometimes difficult to keep kids on track! And if you really want to have a special meeting, I'm pretty sure that Ms. Fitzmaurice is available for author chats. If you'd like to get a sneak peek of this book, check out the first chapter here.
A big thanks to kidzbookbuzz.com for allowing me to participate in the book blog tour for THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY. Here's the list of other tour participants:
A Christian Worldview of Fiction
All About Children’s Books
Becky’s Book Reviews
Cafe of Dreams
Looking Glass Reviews
Maw Books Blog
Never Jam Today
Reading is My Superpower