Song of the Sparrow: A (poetic) Review

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann SandellElaine of Ascolat could have been a lady with lovely dresses and finery. A lady who spent her days weaving like her mother in a tower room of their home on Shallot.

But that home and her mother are gone.

Instead Elaine lives with her father and brothers who fight in the Briton army under the young Arthur. The only girl in the camp, Elaine runs as wild and free as her brothers. She wishes the handsome knight Lancelot would see her as more than a child. She listens to Tristan’s sweet songs. She mends the soldiers’ clothes before each battle. She tends their wounds with herbs and poultices after.

Although she has a home in this strange world of men and fighting, although she has hundreds of brothers, Elaine longs for a real place among the men as much as she wishes for female companionship.

When another girl, Gwynivere, arrives at the camp Elaine is thrilled–until Gwynivere proves herself a cold and cruel companion.

Spurned by Gwynivere, faced with an uncertain future as war looms, Elaine decides to make her own place in Arthur’s camp and prove her worth to the soldiers–especially Lancelot. What starts as a simple plan soon turns into something more complicated and much more dangerous as Elaine has to struggle to protect everything–and everyone–she holds dear in Song of the Sparrow (2007) by Lisa Ann Sandell.

Song of the Sparrow is a revisionist retelling of the legend of King Arthur. It is also a novel written in free verse.

The Lady of Shalott, Elaine of Ascolat, has appeared in numerous retellings of Arthurian legend. Sandell has done something different here not only in giving Elaine a voice of her own but also in giving her agency in her own right. Song of the Sparrow is the story of before Arthur built Camelot–a prequel of sorts to the legends readers will know from movies and stories. Elaine is a winsome narrator with a captivating story that is as exciting and moving as it is poetic.

Beautifully written and elegantly told Song of the Sparrow is a delightfully re-imagined look at the time and world of King Arthur through a feminist lens. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Perez, The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

Ticket to Ride: A Book List

Do you dream of travel? Do you just want to go on a crazy trip now and then? These books will take you around town, cross country, and maybe even around the world without ever leaving your chair.

  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Clay Jensen always pined for Hannah Baker, but it’s only after it’s too late that he really understands her as he listens to thirteen tapes she left him mapping out their town as she experienced it and all of the events that led to her suicide.
  • What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell: The year is 1947 and everyone is eager to put the hardships of the War to End All Wars behind them. When Evie takes a trip with her mother and stepfather to Florida, she finds first love, secrets, and lies in this noirish read.
  • Heist Society by Ally Carter: Katarina Bishop knows all the angles and more than her fair share of cons. She even knows how to steal a legitimate education. But when her father is blamed for high profile theft, Kat will have to travel across Europe and put together her own heist society to clear his name and right some wrongs.
  • Bloomability by Sharon Creech: In her first life Dinnie lived with her family first in Kentucky, then Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana,Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, California and New Mexico. In her second life, Dinnie is whisked away to an eccentric international boarding school in Switzerland by her Aunt and Uncle.
  • A Room With a View by E. M. Forster: Lucy Honeychurch comes to Italy to see the art, broaden her cultural background, and admire the views. Instead what starts as a fight for a room with a view leads Lucy to witness a murder in the street and find an unexpected, and completely improper, romance.
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (see also: Paper Towns): Colin Singleton is a former childhood prodigy and the former boyfriend of 18 girls. All named Katherine. Colin and his best friend Hassan set off on a road trip to help Colin forget his problems. Along the way he might even forget he only dates girls named Katherine.
  • North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley: From behind, Terra looks perfect. But looks can be deceiving. A chance encounter takes Terra and her mother out of their restrictive lives and on a once-in-a-lifetime journey through China where Terra might find real love and, even more importantly, herself.
  • Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe (see also: Bad Kitty): Jasmine is in Venice, the most romantic city in the world, and in a beautiful hotel to be home-schooled (not from her actual home) while she takes intensive Italian lessons and her father writes his definitive book on the history of . . . soap. Oh and there’s also the matter of a murder that needs to be solved.
  • 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (see also: Girl at Sea): Ginny is good at following rules–even really weird ones delivered in 13 little blue envelopes by her infinitely more interesting Aunt Peg directing her to travel to London and across Europe.
  • Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough: The night Savannah brains her stepfather Jack with the frying pan is the night she decides to leave home for good. She takes her little brother and they begin a road trip that will change their lives almost as much as when their mother, Alice, made the same trip in reverse eighteen years ago. (
  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: Taylor Markham is prepared for war with the Townies and the Cadets. What she isn’t prepared for is finding out her greatest enemies could be her greatest friends and that her past isn’t the closed book she expected.
  • The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson: Thanks to the sudden appearance of a car, Destiny and three of her classmates start a road trip searching for one fair day–a day where the good guy wins and everything adds up to something just right.
  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan: As if finding out he was the son of a god wasn’t weird enough, Percy also has to travel across the country to complete a quest and prevent the next world war.
  • A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell: Cora’s life fell apart abruptly. Now all she can think about are the maps she draws constantly and escaping her suffocating life. But the freedom Cora yearns for is closer than she thinks.
  • Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter: Kat has dozens of reasons to skip her family’s vacation to Mexico from dangerous bandits to heatstroke. Could it be that, instead of being the worst vacation ever, going to Mexico will turn into one of Kat’s greatest adventures?
  • Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer: The year is 1817. Kate is in London enjoying a proper Season while Cecelia, much to her consternation, is left to languish in the country with her brother Oliver for company (at least until he’s turned into a tree). Will the girls be able to unravel a mystery (and fix Oliver) while they’re miles apart?
  • Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee: Maybelline Mary Katherine Mary Ann Chestnut (“Maybe” for short) is sick of living above her mother’s charm school. And of her mother. So Maybe recruits her best friends Ted and Hollywood to go with her to Los Angeles to find Maybe’s father.

A Map of the Known World: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann SandellA Map of the Known World (April 2009) is Lisa Ann Sandell‘s third novel (it was also the first book I have discovered that was edited by Aimee Friedman a neat-o YA author in her own right whom I met very, very, very briefly at a reading). She has two other critically acclaimed novels under her belt. According to her website, those previous books were written in verse. I feel like saying that now because I want to address the tone of the book now, before saying anything else about it. At times the writing felt erratic–sometimes profoundly authentic, at other times very much like a writer writing as a teen. That might be due in part to Sandell’s experience with free verse. It might also be because I was reading and uncorrected advanced proof. I don’t know, but I wanted to point it out all the same. Now you know.

Cora’s life fell apart with a sudden crash. The Bradley family had been falling apart for some time, but when Cora’s older brother Nate dies in a car crash, everything is irreparably and irrevocably broken. In his wake Nate has left Cora with nothing. Her father has retreated into his private den and his daily gin and tonics. Her mother is a shadow of her former self, going through the motions of their normal life while issuing rules meant to protect Cora when, in reality, they only suffocate her.

Cora is left adrift unsure how to deal with the anger she has for her brother or anything else. Cora isn’t sure she can deal with starting high school as the girl with a dead brother. She can barely even deal with her small town and all of its constant reminders of the way things used to be:

“Somewhere, things must be beautiful and vivid. Somewhere else, life has to beautiful and vivid and rich. Not like this muted palette–a pale blue bedroom, washed out sunny sky, dull green yellow brown of the fields.  Here, I know every twist of every road, every blade of grass, every face in this town, and I am suffocating.”

Lacking any other support system, Cora finds a refuge in her art. Working from a salvaged map, Cora sketches exotic locations in far off lands–places that Cora is sure are the key to her salvation.

In addition to dealing with Nate’s death, Cora has to deal with the more mundane matter of starting high school. As her best friend throws herself into their new environment, Cora finds herself at the sidelines trying to figure out what it means to be growing up, especially when she knows her brother never can.

Cora never gets to the locations she draws in her maps, but her art does lead her to something equally important: An identity beyond Nate Bradley’s little sister. With the help of Damian Archer, the other boy in the car when Nate died, Cora also learns the truth about her brother and, perhaps, a way to fix the hole Nate left in her family after the accident.

Sandell expertly deals with Cora’s struggles to redefine herself in relation to this tragedy and her broken family. At times the writing veers toward the overwraught, but for the most part, the writing holds true. Cora is also shockingly authentic in both her grief and, I think, in her changing relationships with other characters. I often complain that teen characters are nothing like me or any of the teens I know, but Cora is. Thrown into high school without a map, Cora’s confusion over suddenly being a “real” teenager and having to find new friends will ring true with many readers.

On another note, I really liked the simplicity of the cover which evokes the art described within the novel while simultaneously alluding to the healing process after Nate’s death (the heart on the cover is made of scrap metal, I believe car parts but lacking a car cannot accurately gauge).

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin