Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson (Tor Teen, 2020)
Reviewed by Maayan D’Antonio
Jackson’s debut novel tells the story of 17-year-old ballerina Savannah Rose—“Sparrow” to her friends and family. Sparrow has been chosen to dance the role of the Swan Queen, with her best friend and dance partner Lucas as the prince. But dancing isn’t Sparrow’s only talent. Her real talent is keeping secrets—a practice distilled into her by her long dead mother.
In what starts off as a seemingly classic Hollywood meet-cute, Sparrow starts dating Tristan King—who seems perfect to everyone, especially Sparrow. Everyone but Lucas.
Sparrow is scared, Lucas can see it on her face plain as day. But every time he tries to confront her about it, she shuts him down. But Lucas knows that something isn’t right, and Tristan is the cause. Lucas doesn’t trust the guy, who bullied him throughout middle school. Who still acts like a first class A-hole. Who lashes out at Sparrow—even when he thinks no one is watching.
But in the aftermath of Tristan’s brutal assault on Sparrow, she must find the courage to confront the abuse that haunts her past and threatens her future.
Jackson’s novel is bound to pierce the reader’s heart as this devastating, yet hopeful story unfolds. It is told from the alternating perspectives of Sparrow and Lucas, who are each battling with their own griefs and losses, and figuring out what life looks like after trauma.
Yet the alternating pattern between the characters isn’t in the traditional pattern of chapter by chapter. We first meet Sparrow at the start of March until the end of August. But her timeline makes big leaps leaving jarring gaps in time. These gaps are only filled once the point of view shifts to Lucas. His timeline enhances Sparrow’s, while also making room for his own personal tragedies. Having the story “rewind” has a very jarring effect, while filling in much needed information. The story’s flow and ‘full picture’ feeling would have benefitted from the ‘tradition’ shift of chapters: Lucas’s observations regarding Sparrow’s relationship and his confrontations with her, the rift that forms in their friendship, and his losses combined with Sparrow’s struggles would have created an overall smoother transition in the storytelling.
Sparrow (Tor Teen, 2020) is a devastating tale of family and relationship abuse. It can be viewed as a warning for young readers to what an abusive relationship can look like. Tristan’s behavior towards Sparrow shifts with violent whiplash, and it’s clear that this isn’t how a healthy relationship should go.
The story, rightfully so, stresses that it’s okay to want out of a relationship, especially an unhealthy one, with no warning or explanation if that feels right for either person. Also, it makes clear that by no means does the fault of this violent behavior fall on the victim. In fact, when Sparrow does want to leave Tristan, he goes crazy, and no amount of pleading from Sparrow to calm him down works.
Lucas feels responsible for what happens to Sparrow. He blames himself for not going to Sparrow’s father and telling him what he saw between Sparrow and Tristan. Every time she tells Lucas she’s fine, she holds tighter to her secrets. With this guilt eating at Lucas, he starts to change, but both Sparrow and Lucas are each on a path that the other cannot follow.
Jackson reminds us that sometimes heroes are not the saviors we need. Sometimes those saviors are ourselves.