5 stars for Cari Noga’s “Sparrow Migrations”

sparrowmigrations

By JACK CHAUCER

Quite simply, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I can see why it was a semifinalist for 2011 Amazon Best Breakthrough Novel. Cari takes a real and spectacular event, the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane crash, and goes way beyond the tabloid headlines of the moment to create a story that will stick with you for years to come. The jet may have just scratched the surface of the water, but Cari plunges us deeper — into the lives of autistic 12-year-old Robby Palmer, who witnessed the results of the crash aboard a ferry, and his befuddled but determined parents Sam and Linda; passengers Deborah and Christopher, who are struggling with infertility and marital trust; and preacher’s wife Brett, whose secret life as a lesbian is exposed by TV news cameras and threatens to destroy her family.

The intertwining arcs of these characters is an eye-opening and fascinating reading experience. If you are ignorant about the struggles of families with autism, in particular, you will have a new appreciation and sense of empathy long before the end of the book. Robby’s concern for the geese that were sucked into the engines of Flight 1549 helps drive the plot; and his new-found love of birds not only helps bridge the gap between him and his parents, but also ends up indirectly helping other characters to heal.

No word in this book is wasted. The writing is superb, and every chapter is concise, focused and meaningful. The payoff for following the downward spiral between deceitful Deborah and cowardly Christopher is huge when their newborn daughter Gracie — without a word, just her tiny presence — ultimately helps them discover, as Cari writes it, “the frightening beauty of second chances.” No counselor or near-death plane crash could have saved their marriage. Only the fragile but beautiful force of life itself — and the shared human experience that binds us all together. That healing power builds and surges throughout this book like four jet engines, taking the reader on an unforgettable flight.

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