Will Sparrow’s Road

Written by Karen Cushman
Review by Ann Pedtke

Twelve-year-old Will Sparrow is a boy of the streets. After being abandoned by his mother, abused by his father, and threatened to be sold as a chimneysweep by his employer, Will decides that no one will look out for him but himself. He runs away, and adopts a new mantra: “I care for no one but myself and nothing but my belly!” But in 1599 England, Will finds that an empty belly isn’t always easy to fill. And as he encounters human kindness in those he meets along the road, he finds that maintaining emotional detachment and caring for “no one but himself” is harder than it looks – and maybe not so worthwhile after all.

When Will falls in with a traveling troupe of “oddities” – a dwarf, a “cat-faced” girl, and others who maintain a bright outlook in the face of cruelty and ridicule – his thick skin begins to soften, and he gradually finds in himself the compassion that he has been so long deprived of. As always, Karen Cushman is a master of portraying personal transformation: when Will is introduced, he is often rude and selfish but just vulnerable enough that he never quite slips into unlikeability, and the reader roots for him as he begins to see the error in his ways. Cushman’s trademark cast of colorful Renaissance characters is present here as well, from conjurers to swineherds to pickpockets. The story is a simple one, and often predictable, but is a warmhearted portrait of a boy coming to terms with himself and the world.