Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson loves cooking and plans to go to culinary school just as soon as she's old enough. But even Groovy's thoughtfully-planned menus won't fix the things that start to go wrong the year she turns eleven - suddenly, her father is in jail, her best friend's long-absent mother reappears, and the swallows that make their annual migration to her hometown arrive surprisingly early. As Groovy begins to expect the unexpected, she learns about the importance of forgiveness, understands the complex stories of the people around her, and realizes that even an earthquake can't get in the way of a family that needs to come together.
Kathryn Fitzmaurice's lovely debut novel is distinctively Californian in its flavor. Her rich characters and strong sense of place feel both familiar and fresh at first meeting - and worth revisiting, again and again.
We lived in a perfect stucco house, just off the sparkly Pacific, with a lime tree in the backyard and pink and yellow roses gone wild around a picket fence. But that wasn't enough to keep my daddy from going to jail the year I turned eleven. I told my best friend, Frankie, that it was hard to tell what something was like on the inside just by looking at the outside. And that our house was like one of those See's candies with beautiful swirled chocolate on the outside, but sometimes hiding coconut flakes on the inside, all gritty and hard, like undercooked white rice.
Things that look just right come undone quicker than the last day of summer. And one day, it happened right in front of me. The horoscope Mama read to me that morning should've been enough warning: Expect the unexpected. I'd raised my eyebrows and smiled, thinking the unexpected might be finally discovering a way to chop onions without crying or finding a dollar on the street...
The Year the Swallows Came Early has a wonderfully appealing sense of timelessness... One of the most satisfying elements is Kathryn Fitzmaurice's refusal to tie up all the plot lines. It's a confident thing to do in a first novel, but it works. Readers of any age will know that "they lived happily ever after" is one of the things that makes a fairy tale a fairy tale.
(Reviewed by Joanne Collings).
Full Review (998 words).
All my life, the swallows returning every March 19th to San Juan Capistrano, California, has been a symbol of the strength of nature and of how some things never change. Except they do and, what's more, maybe it never happened anyway, or, even worse, we may be responsible when things do change.
For over a century, St. Joseph's Day annually saw the return of the swallows to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano, where they would rebuild their nests in the ornate structures. They were preceded each year by the slightly earlier return of the "scout swallows." There is a local ordinance against destroying swallow nests, which are made from mud.
Where the swallows returned from was long a mystery; now it is known that they journeyed ...
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