Silhouette of a Sparrow
When 16-year-old Garnet is sent to spend the summer with her wealthy aunt in Minnesota, she looks forward to an escape – from her overprotective mother and distant father, from the boy everyone expects her to marry, from the societal expectations that she will settle down as a housewife rather than pursue a career of her own. Garnet hopes to go to college and study ornithology, but in 1926 this is hardly seen as an acceptable course for a woman.
However, when she gets to Excelsior, Minnesota, Garnet enters a world where it is almost implausibly easy to break the rules. She can sneak off on forbidden adventures to the amusement park; she can get a job at the local hat shop at a nod from her well-connected aunt; she can even begin to explore her sexuality with a dazzling flapper named Isabella. And under the influence of this new freedom, she eventually finds the strength to stand up for her beliefs and her vision of her own future.
I was drawn into the eccentric world of Excelsior, Minnesota, and I loved the ornithological theme that wove its way through the book in the chapter headings and elsewhere. But where the author excels at crafting a rich setting, she falls short in plotting. Every victory comes too easily for Garnet, and every emergency – from house fires to blackmail threats to devastating letters from home – ultimately fades in a depressing blip of anticlimax. Garnet’s burgeoning relationship with Isabella garners strangely modern reactions, with none of the historical baggage of the time. And the grand-scale deus ex machina that finally catalyzes Garnet to assert herself only furthers the implausibility of the story. I love this period and loved the setting, but ultimately couldn’t vouch for characters who fall into life-changing decisions so easily.