The Language of Sparrows by Rachel Phifer
The Language of Sparrows: A Novel
Brilliant and fluent in too many languages to count, 15-year-old Sierra Wright can't seem to communicate what is important to her in any language. Though April Wright stubbornly keeps an upbeat attitude about her daughter's future, she has let her own dreams slip away. Just across the bridge lives old Luca, scarred from his time in a Romanian gulag years before. Though he has seemingly given up on people, Sierra is drawn to him despite his prickly edges.
No one else is comfortable with the unpredictable old man spending time alone with Sierra, not even Luca's son. Yet it is this unconventional relationship that will bring two families together to form friendships and unearth their family stories, stories that just might give them all the courage to soar on wings toward a new future.
The Language of Sparrows was a beautiful book. Heartbreaking at times, but also full of hope and just really a great story. I wasn't expecting it, so this book really surprised me. There may be some spoilers ahead as I talk about the story.
The book opens with Sierra and her mom. Sierra is fading away, trying to disappear into nothing so no one will notice her. She barely talks as she cannot find the right words, but she is incredibly smart. She starts hanging out with Luca as he makes her feel normal and safe to be herself, and he seems to enjoy her company as well. He is an older man, looks like a grandfather, and I thought it was great that she has a new friend. Then her mom finds out, and someone tells the school that Sierra is hanging out at Luca's and the police and child protective services and everyone gets involved and decides she cannot visit him any more. I really thought is this what would really happen? A teenager cannot be friends with an old guy? It just seemed blown way out of proportion, but maybe in this day and age that would be the response. Maybe because the old man is not super friendly or anything to neighbors...he keeps to himself as well. They go so well together and it was really heartbreaking watching Sierra try and still stay close to Luca even though she is not aloud to see him. I just wanted to shake her mom and be like look! He is actually helping her! Why won't you let her see her friend? You have met him now, he seems harmless, she needs this!
Sierra does find one friend, Carlos. Really Carlos won't leave her alone, so he keeps trying to get her to talk and open up. He was so nice and it was so great to see someone her own age try and be there for her. Yes she doesn't open up easily, but eventually they get close.
Her mom, April, has a lot of secrets she is keeping. Secrets about Sierra's fathers death. You see how she is trying to be happy and positive and do whatever she can to help Sierra, but at the same time she sees Sierra as week and that she cannot handle anything. Her sister keeps telling her she needs to be honest with Sierra in order for Sierra to move on and get better, but April just can't. Really she has issues with his death that she needs to deal with first. She is just as broken, but better at pretending that everything is okay. Well maybe not better since I think people can tell, but she tries harder to pretend that everything is okay. Sierra just pulls into herself and tries to keep everyone out.
Then there is also Nick. At first I wasn't sure what to make of him, but as the story went you can't help but feel for him as well. Really all the main characters, expect Carlos, you can't help but want to help. They all have demons in their past that they have not dealt with yet. They all have things that they need someone to call them on and make them talk about. They all have issues to resolve. I just want to gather all of them up and fix everything for them. Of course it is not that easy.
The story is so heartbreaking in so many ways. All of the characters just pull you in and you cannot help but care about them. The horrible things that have happened in the past, especially Luca, are just so sad. One of the worst moment though is when Sierra finds out the truth about her dad. She tracks down someone that knew him since her mom would not talk about him. Then Sierra just breaks. She then starts acting like her mom, trying desperately to pretend like she is okay. Carlos calls her out on turning plastic as he says, and she just smiles her fake smile, speaks her fake words, lives her fake life. It was so tragic I just wanted to scoop her up and fix everything her. I hated watching her go through that distress. It was just so sad and I couldn't help but feel so much for her.
Eventually things do work out, and the end is more positive than the rest of the book which is nice. The whole story though it just kind of intense. Definitely a downer, with a hopeful ending. There is also a religious aspect to it, but it does not seem like a religious book. It is a book where the characters are deeply religious, but not a book that try to make the reader religious (if that makes sense). I have read other books where the characters go on about God and such, and it seems aimed at the audience. Even though bible passages came up a lot, and the characters spoke to God or prayed often, I never felt it directed at me. I just felt like this was the path these characters were on and this is what they had to do to try and get through their hardships. It was nice to see the author could include all of that and not make it preachy.
Overall this was a beautifully written sad story with a light at the end. So good and so much better than I thought it would be based on the synopsis. I am just so glad things worked out for Sierra in the end. I know I have said it before, but it was really heartbreaking to read her story. I finished it last night and I am still just want to grab her up and give her all the hugs and make everything okay. Wonderful story.