fiction

The Sparrow Sisters- Ellen Herrick

I am “My first job was in a video rental store” years old, and one of my favorite movies to check out and watch over and over again was Practical Magic with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. It was when I was reading the back of the box when I learned that it was based on a book (and, I’m not even kidding, sixteen year-old me went on a spree through the store, making a list of all the movies that I loved that were based on books, and then checking them all out from the library next door. Why no, I was NOT popular in high school, why do you ask?) Although they differ greatly, I’ve always loved both the movie and the book by Alice Hoffman, and so when I learned about The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2015), I knew I had to read it.

The Sparrow sisters are practically an institution in their tiny New England town of Granite Point, where they run a garden that blossoms nearly year round and entirely out of season. Patience, the youngest sister, can cure what ails you, mixing up her remedies in blue glass bottles tucked away by the women of the town (and sometimes the men, too). Their family has been part of the town and its history since history began, but the delicate balance between the slightly eccentric and seemingly magical sisters and the stodgy, gossipy locals is upset when Henry Carlyle, injured war veteran, becomes the new town doctor. His fascination with Patience and her unscientific manner of healing the townsfolk sets off a chain of events that leaves a child dead, Patience on trial, and the weather in an upheaval. Granite Point is finally on the national map, but not in a way anyone ever wanted to be.

The Sparrow Sisters had some serious shoes to fill with its comparison to Practical Magic, and for me, it didn’t fill them. The magical realism in this novel felt extremely forced and not at all nuanced as it did in Practical Magic (or, for that matter, in Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, which I also enjoyed). The townspeople are both suspicious of the sisters and Patience’s abilities, yet they never question how the garden manages to grow out-of-season fruits, vegetables, and flowers, and they all know to sniff Patience in order to ascertain her mood (different flower scents mean different feelings, and she apparently just emits them?). I enjoy magical realism and reading stories set in our world but where small acts of magic are possible, but the magic here didn’t feel like it came naturally to Patience; it felt as though it were heaped upon her in place of a personality (and constantly getting snippy with people does not count as a personality, either). Multiple times, it felt like I was being slapped in the face while the author screamed, “Look at how full of magic Patience is! She smells like herbs and flowers, it’s so whimsical! ISN’T THIS AMAZING?”, and that’s not what I’m looking for in a book. I’d rather make slow discoveries via rich writing that hints around a character’s supernatural abilities, and that’s not what this book was, at all.

The trial comes about when someone Patience cares deeply for takes a deadly plant from her garden and dies after ingesting it, and she’s accused of killing them. The story fell apart for me at that point, because Patience was well aware of that plant and how it could kill, and she was also aware of how literally that particular person took things. Knowing all of this, I felt as though she would have taken better care to keep that particular person safe around and from this plant, and thus, the major conflict of the story didn’t work for me, either.

The writing style strayed toward ‘choppy’ as well, which at times came from overuse of ‘subject-verb, subject-verb, subject-verb’ in too many sentences in a row. When it comes to good writing, varying sentence structure makes a huge difference in the flow of a story, and this absolutely missed the mark on that for me.

Sadly, The Sparrow Sisters lacked the charm that Practical Magic and Garden Spells held for me. There’s a second book in the series, but I have zero interest in spending more time with these characters, and so I’ll look elsewhere to get my next fix of magical realism.

Visit Ellen Herrick’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

3 thoughts on “The Sparrow Sisters- Ellen Herrick

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