Will Sparrow's Road by Karen Cushman
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fiction
Published on November 6, 2012
Published by Clarion Books
Read From: 6.16.13 - 6.17.13
"I care for no one but myself and nothing but my belly!"
Will Sparrow, liar and thief, is running away - from the father who sold him for beer, from the innkeeper who threatened to sell him as a chimney sweep, from his whole sorry life. Barefoot and penniless, without family, friends, or boots, Will is determined to avoid capture and, of course, to find something to eat.
Some of the travelers he meets on the road have a kind word for him and a promise of better things to come, such as coins and juicy beef ribs. Eager to go along, Will repeatedly finds himself tricked by older and wiser tricksters. Each time, he resolves afresh to trust no one and care for no one. But luckily for Will, he can't keep his guard up forever.
Cover Blurb: Yes or No? It's very indicative of the book's era and what sort of novel it will be, but I'm not a huge fan of the cover art. There's something about it that just doesn't quite appeal to me.
Characters: Will Sparrow is not the kindest nor most honest boy around. He can be rude, a bit mean, and will steal the first opportunity he gets. Despite this, I found Will to be an altogether likable protagonist. He is rarely intentionally mean to other people, and he has the capability of becoming a very kind and good boy if he only had someone to show him how. Will hasn't been treated well by anyone, and every time he trusts someone, he ends up being hurt. And for all of his dishonesty, he doesn't like the idea of working for charlatans who cheat people of their money. Many of the other characters in Will Sparrow's Road don't hang around for very long, this being a mere 208-paged novel. But in the short time they make an appearance, they leave quite the impression, and I found myself really enjoying their vibrant personalities. I especially liked Fitz, a rather surly dwarf who ended up being a far more caring and kinder person than Will first took him to be, and Grace - the "wild girl" who refused to humiliate herself any longer for the sake of her master Tidball.
The Romance: There isn't any!
Plot: Will Sparrow hasn't known kindness ever since his mother disappeared. His father sold him to a bad-tempered innkeeper for a pint of beer, and now the innkeeper intends to sell Will as a chimney sweep. Well, Will Sparrow will have none of it, and he runs away before the innkeeper can make good on his threat. Relying totally on his own wits and quick hands, Will travels about Elizabethan England with nothing to his name - not even a pair of shoes. Along the way, he meets up with several people who promise him food and coin, but turn out to be even greater charlatans than himself. Will is prepared to give up on trusting other people entirely, until he meets Master Tidball - the owner of a curiosities side show. Crippled in a carting accident, Tidball takes Will on as an assistant and they travel from fair to fair, displaying Tidball's amazing discoveries. For only a penny, people may pay to see a baby mermaid in a jar, a three-legged chicken, the skeleton of a sea monster, and - horror of all horrors - a monstrous creature, half cat and half girl. Will believes he's found his niche. Except the others in the little band of curiosities - the wild girl Graymalkin (who calls herself Grace) and Fitz the dwarf - aren't very pleasant company and don't seem to appreciate anything Tidball does for them. But of course, people are not always what they seem - not even Tidball - and it's not long before Will realizes that maybe his perception of the odd little band was entirely wrong. In some ways, Will Sparrow's Road could be called a meandering plot. There's a definite beginning, but no definite destination or goal or end. The majority of the book is spent with Will meeting charlatan after charlatan, and then - when he meets up with Tidball - traveling from one fair to another, and getting to know the character relationships between Fitz, Grace, Tidball, and Will. Even so, Will Sparrow's Road is a very quick read, and I enjoyed learning more about the characters and exploring Elizabethan England with this troop of colorful people. Had it been any longer, Will Sparrow's Road might have dragged, but as it is, I found it to be a relaxing and enjoyable weekend read.
Believability: I have never found fault with this Author's historic details. I have always loved how she brings the eras she writes about to life in a totally fascinating way.
Writing Style: Third person, past tense. However, there is something in the narration that almost makes it feel like first person; like an outside observer is relating Will's story to the Reader. The dialogue is very much in keeping with the era, and still easy to understand. It lends an air of authenticity to the whole thing.
Conclusion: This was one area that I had a bit of an issue with. There is a buildup for a climax. Now that Will has realized what Tidball is really like, what are he and the others going to do about their situation? Will Grace remain in Tidball's service? Can Fitz continue to protect her? Is Will going to move on and leave Grace and Fitz behind? [Spoiler] And then Will thinks he's murdered Tidball, which of course puts them all in a real sticky situation [End spoiler]. With all of this going on, the climax should have been grand. But it actually all gets resolved relatively quickly and easily, leaving the end feeling a tad bit rushed. Still, even this slightly disappointing climax doesn't ruin the general splendor of Will Sparrow's Road. With a cheeky, likable boy protagonist, great historical detail, and a bunch of fun side characters, this has to be my new Karen Cushman favorite.
Recommended Audience: Girl-and-boy read, ten-and-up, good for historical fiction and Karen Cushman fans (even adults!)