The Year the Swallows Came Early
by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Eleven-year-old narrator Eleanor Robinson, named for her great-grandmother, a science-fiction writer, goes by the nickname Groovy. Everyone should have a Groovy in their circle of friends. As the novel begins, Groovy must come to grips with some harsh realities. She may live in “a perfect stucco house, just off the sparkly Pacific,” but appearances are deceiving. Her house “was like one of those See’s candies with beautiful swirled chocolate on the outside,” but “coconut flakes on the inside, all gritty and hard, like undercooked white rice.” In the first chapter, Groovy’s father gets arrested, right there in front of the Swallow’s Shop and Ferry, as the two of them walk into town. Groovy has no idea why he was arrested, though she knows “Daddy seemed to get the kind of bosses who ended up firing him,” and she knows her friend Frankie doesn't quite approve of Daddy. But when Groovy tells Mama, and Mama says that she’s the one who called the police, Groovy must rethink everything.
In her small California town, everyone knows everyone else’s business. No one is quite what he or she seems to be, however. What Groovy learns about her father may be a disappointing surprise, but she also discovers an unexpected wisdom and strength in her Mama, and some startling things about classmate Marisol Cruz, who seemed like she “wasn't the nicest girl” but who comes through for Groovy, and about even Mr. Tom the homeless man, who gives Groovy a mysterious message that ultimately helps her make sense of her rapidly unraveling world. Groovy’s passion for cooking, for nourishing others and for constantly seeking to improve her recipes, her home life and her town results in a bounty of alluring sights, smells and tastes. (Chocolate-covered strawberries serve as a crucial plot element--do make sure you've eaten a good meal before reading, or keep snacks handy.) The narrative remains entirely and credibly in the mind of the sixth-grade heroine, and she will have your youngsters rooting for her, even though her stamina and courage are never in doubt.