Recently I was given the privilege to read a book that hasn’t been released yet on the condition that I write a review for it if I liked it. How exciting! It’s like opening a present a week early. Well, like it, I did, and here is my review Of Rachel Phifer’s novel, The Language of Sparrows.
I am going to be honest here. When I started, my expectation was that I would be spending a few hours reading what I like to call “fluff”. What I mean by “fluff” is a book that is enjoyable to read, but doesn’t have a lot of depth. The characters might struggle with a problem or two, but in the end, everything will be tied up in a tidy package. The Language of Sparrows is not this book. Instead, it is full of complex characters whose lives seemed believable enough to be living in my neighborhood: a single mom, a troubled teen, a dedicated teacher who has a complicated relationship with his father, and the father whose past won’t let him live in the present.
The lives of these four people (and a handsome teen boy who has his own history) are intertwined through various circumstances, and while they each have their own problems that they can’t solve, they are able to bring a little healing in the lives of the others. My reaction was two-fold. First, I didn’t want to put the book down until I had read every page. I became invested in the makeshift family that evolves, and felt a need to see them through to the end. Second, I wanted to invite Rachel Phifer to my house for a prolonged cup of tea over which we would just get to know each other. In the acknowledgements Phifer mentions several people who helped her understand the subjects that rounded out her characters. It is obvious that she listened and learned. I found myself wondering what motivated her to make a particular character interested in one thing and another character have a particular history.
In the end, while there is resolution enough to allow closure, the resolution is in no way simplistic. It leaves us with the hope of healing without suggesting that it will happen suddenly or without setbacks. It shows an insight in the author that I imagine can only have come from experiencing a less than tidy life herself. She isn’t afraid to grapple with the difficult questions about God and His mysterious ways, even leaving them without complete answers. I am drawn to the her implication that people who don’t really have their own lives neatly arranged still have something to offer to others. In fact, it seems that the very act of helping others is what gives these characters the ability navigate through their own darkness. As a result, Language of Sparrows gives a respectful nod to those of us whose lives are just hard. And then it gives us hope.