Actual rating: 3,5 stars.
TRIGGER WARNING: domestic violence, abusive relationship.
"Sparrow" is a book I'll struggle with while writing this review because it touches extremely delicate themes that at the same time lead me to be in conflict with them.
Sparrow is a talented dancer who, while being late for her dance lesson, is almost run over by Tristan one day in late winter - the handsome and perfect boy she has known for a lifetime, who has always been a bully and made fun of her and her best friend Lucas because of their passion for ballet.
But now Tristan - more beautiful than ever - says he's sorry for those behaviors and for having almost hit her, so he practically obliges her to accept an invitation to dinner as an opportunity to apologize.
And we read about their first date, we read how the next day she tells everything to her friends at school, we read how Lucas doesn't take it well and how her best friend Delaney is instead excited for her.
And then we jump forward a few months. We see how Sparrow is anxious because the dance lesson went beyond the usual time and Tristan - in addition to having seen her dance in close contact with Lucas during the rehearsals of Swan Lake - is now impatient since he brings her in and gets back to take her home at every lesson.
Let's go a few months further and we see how angry Tristan is because Sparrow forgot to put on the necklace he gave her - and Sparrow blames herself as Tristan puts his hands around her throat.
Delaney and Lucas' attempts to extort Sparrow the truth about her relationship with Tristan are useless - they only have suspicions and no proof and in the meantime Sparrow says that everything is fine, that the relationship is perfect, the bruises are due to her being clumsy so that her relationship with Tristan is none of their business.
Sparrow learned years ago with her mother not to speak and to smile through it.
But then we read about Tristan's brutal assault in late August and from that moment pretending will be impossible.
Abusive relationships are something I struggle to empathize with - perhaps because I am too self-centered and sometimes I get explosively angry even at nothing so it's highly improbable I could bear someone putting their hands on me while I remain in silence, maybe because (though being different relationships and although suffering the pains of hell after) I experienced some toxic friendships and I left when things started not to feel good anymore.
The truth is that while I feel extremely lucky I have never experienced an abusive love affair, I am the type that walks away - who emotionally and physically moves away at the first sign of something making me sick. This is why I have always felt quite confident in stating that I would never be able to stay in such a relationship, I would never be able to justify someone who beats me saying that he loves me and that afterwards feels guilty and tries to apologize, someone that says he's doing it for my own good - and at the same time I could never think that it is my fault, that I deserve it because it was my lack in something. I am too self-centered to think of such a thing.
It was difficult for me to empathize also because there are those temporal jumps I mentioned earlier - there's no way to get to know Tristan and be fascinated by him and then find out what kind of person he really is, there's no growing violence, there are single episodes in which you still get anxious and feel the tension because you feel the escalation of violence in Tristan as the months go by, yet I have struggled to empathize.
And then the story switches to Lucas and we go backward - we go back to Sparrow's first outing with Tristan and retrace the same episodes of violence seen though by Lucas' eyes.
The whole book is like this: for a while we are with Sparrow and then we go back at the same period with Lucas - a classic change in points of view chapter by chapter would perhaps have worked better for temporal continuity even if being so close to each other would have been a bit repetitive.
Not that what we read from Lucas's point of view is useless, on the contrary - we see what we can initially confuse as classic jealousy becoming concern and anger because Sparrow seems not to want to see what really is wrong with her relationship. We then see him feeling guilty, we see a different kind of anger that leads him to get in trouble - we see the pain, the helplessness in wanting to save Sparrow and the frustration in failing to it. We see him coming to terms with the fact that men see a problem and they would like to find a solution right away and immediately solve what is wrong while women need time to work out the traumas with their paces.
Although I have been unable to empathize - I had read a book five years ago on the same topic, but which started from premises and characteristic traits of the characters involved completely different - Sparrow is a book that shows and deals with those issues in the right way: the justifications the victim finds for their partner, the guilt felt by the survivor (the one felt by the person brutally attacked and the one felt by those who love the victim and haven't been able to stop what happened), the necessary therapy to heal, the type of domestic violence that creates two types of people - the one that will end up again victim of someone else and the one who'll turn from victim to oppressor.
Because even though he has no excuse, something about Tristan's family life with his father show through a phrase he says to Sparrow.
Because what Sparrow suffered at the hands of her mother is only hinted at, hushed at the beginning as she was taught to do, but which then explodes in all its horror when Sparrow realizes it's time to speak if she wants to have any chance of healing.
It's definitely a book with a really powerful message and I was sorry I was unable to empathize with this fragile but strong at the same time girl. Just as it's a pity those time jumps that perhaps made that part of the story end too soon - or perhaps the author didn't want the story to become too morbid because what matters is what happens next. Maybe I would have done without some of Lucas' point of view - or I would have left it intact, but I would have expanded Sparrow's.
The ending, however, is perfect for me: truthful, credible, bittersweet - the symbol of an affection that goes beyond friendship and romantic love, the representation of the way a person marks your life perhaps even when they're not a huge part of your life anymore.