Thursday, June 11, 2015

Book Review: "Sparrow Migrations" by Cari Noga

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

One of the more harrowing and spectacular moments in recent history was on January 15, 2009, when a US Airways flight piloted by Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger struck a flock of geese shortly after takeoff, and Captain Sullenberger made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. All passengers and crew on the plane were saved. The images of the plane floating in the river, with the passengers standing on the wings waiting to be rescued, remain indelible memories.

Cari Noga's excellent novel, Sparrow Migrations, uses that event as a catalyst in the lives of three families. Twelve-year-old Robby Palmer, who has autism, is on a ferry on the Hudson River with his parents when he becomes fascinated with geese flying nearby, and then he becomes amazed to see a plane in the water. When he learns that a bird strike is believed to be the cause of the plane's malfunction, he becomes obsessed with learning as much as he can about Canada geese and other birds, and this quest for knowledge despite his intellectual and emotional struggles provides both stress and joy for his parents.

Deborah and Christopher are emotionally exhausted after two unsuccessful attempts at in vitro fertilization, and Christopher is reluctant to support a third try. But being on the plane that landed in the river has intensified Deborah's need to be a mother, and her belief that this is a sign that life is too precious. Yet when Deborah gets news that could impact her future, she has to decide whether to press on with her plans or share this information with Christopher and run the risk that her dream of having a baby may not come true.

Brett is a preacher's wife in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who has kept her true self and her true desires locked inside of her for years, for the sake of her marriage and her teenage daughter, Amanda. But a chance meeting at a food bank conference reopens old feelings, and when a news camera catches her on one of the ferries that rescued the passengers from the plane, she believes this is a sign that she should tell the truth about how she really feels and what she really wants out of life, despite the consequences this decision might cause.

The lives of these people intersect in different ways throughout the book. Each faces challenges that seem insurmountable, but they find unique ways of dealing with them, and trying to move beyond what is holding them back. I found this to be a compelling, well written book, and I really like how Noga unfurled the plot. Nothing that happens is particularly surprising, but it is still very satisfying, and even a little emotional at times. (Or maybe that was just me.)

It has always amazed me how your life can change in an instant. That truth was certainly the case for the characters in this book, and their journeys from that moment were interesting and fulfilling. This is a quiet gem of a book.

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