For 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.
Day 25, An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden
The Garden Committee is in a tizzy. Someone has been stealing buckets of dirt from the private garden on the public square. Miss Angela Chesney, forceful and sure, is certain the culprits are the wild children of working-class Catford Street. Her gentle and frail sister Olivia, who never questions, questions this: Why are children not allowed to play in the garden? Olivia’s heart condition forces her to observe life in post-World War II London from the windows of the home she shares with Angela. She sees the children running on the streets and thinks of them as sparrows, common and free, and though she is never hungry or cold or needy as they are, she envies them.
What Olivia does not see, at first, is Lovejoy Mason, whose ironic name reveals little about her almost-orphaned situation. What is an almost orphan? It’s a sensitive child of a faux glamorous, faux actress mother who deposits her with a kind couple struggling to run a fancy restaurant in a failing neighborhood. Lovejoy is proud and prideful, and her desperate search for acceptance and beauty makes her try to grow a garden in a bombed out church. To do this she needs dirt—”good, garden earth.” To get it, she enlists the aid of Tip Malone, the biggest, baddest boy in the gang of boys Miss Angela Chesney is sure is stealing from her—I mean, the public square’s—garden. Tip is unwillingly and inexplicably enthralled by Lovejoy, and she uses the tough boy’s soft spot to goad him into helping her with the garden building scheme.
Why is An Episode of Sparrows a good read for women? Rumer Godden was a gifted and prolific author whose stories crossed over from works for adults to young adults to children. She wrote terrific characters who came to life in both exotic and common places, and often addressed themes of social inequality and the powerlessness of children and women. In this book, she uses a neighborhood to intertwine people who would never have a thing to do with one another if given a choice, but must do so because of proximity. Tip and Lovejoy’s odd friendship brings out the best and worst in both of them, and Olivia’s frailty allows her to help more people than anyone expects. Everyone is struggling, but in the very English way of the times, they are all struggling together. The “good, garden earth” that is so rare and precious in this city is what both tears them apart, and brings them together.