Summary and book reviews of The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

The Year the Swallows Came Early

By Kathryn Fitzmaurice

The Year the Swallows Came Early
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2009,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2011,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Chapter One

Coconut Flakes

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—...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Discussion Questions

  1. In The Year the Swallows Came Early eleven year old Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson describes her house as a piece of See's candy, with perfect swirled chocolate on the outside, but sometimes hiding coconut flakes on the inside, all gritty and hard, like undercooked white rice. What does this mean? Is there anything in your life that is like this? What is it?
  2. How are the swallows, which return to San Juan Capistrano each year, symbolic of Frankie's mother?
  3. Eleanor says that certain foods remind her of special people and events. In chapter thirty-seven, she says that scrambled eggs remind her of talking to her Mama while the fog rolls in, and that Luis' tacos remind her of the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Fitzmaurice does not completely resolve the family conflicts, but she provides hints that love will conquer old resentments. Ages 9-12.

Kirkus Reviews

As in real life, not everything is resolved in the end, and many questions remain, but things have achieved a fragile balance, rather like the ingredients in a delicate sauce. (Fiction. 10-14).

Booklist

Starred Review. What all readers will appreciate are the beautiful portraits of the characters, young and old, and the way the story delicately weaves its seaside setting into the story.

Shelf Awareness, Jennifer Brown.

One of the greatest reasons for being in the book business is to discover a completely original voice. The other is to put that voice into as many readers' hands as possible. This is one of those voices.

Children's Literature

With a timeless feel, memorable characters, and vivid writing, Fitzmaurice captures her audience and holds their hearts until the very end.

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The Swallows of San Juan Capistrano

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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