By Meg Moseley
Multnomah Books, 2011
When Sparrows Fall is a beautiful, character-driven, debut novel by Atlanta author, Meg Moseley. Meg's website description of her novels couldn't be more accurate: "Realism, faith, and a funny streak." Written with humor and poignancy, When Sparrows Fall is the story of a young woman's quest to reclaim freedom and safety, for herself and her children.
A widow and mother of six, Miranda Hanford leads a quiet, private life. When the pastor of her close-knit church announces his plans to move the entire congregation to another state, Miranda jumps at the opportunity to dissolve ties with Mason Chandler and his controlling brand of “shepherding.” But then Mason threatens to unearth secrets only he knows, and Miranda feels trapped, terrified she’ll be unable to protect her children.
Professor Jack Hanford is more than surprised when he gets a call from his estranged sister-in-law’s oldest son, Timothy, informing him that Miranda has taken a serious fall and he has been named legal guardian of her children while she recovers. Quickly charmed by Miranda’s children, Jack brings some much-needed life into the sheltered household. But his constant challenging of the family’s conservative lifestyle makes the recovering mother uneasy and defensive—despite Jack’s unnerving appeal.
To put it simply, I loved this book and hated to see it end, because I wanted to spend more time with this engaging family.
Nineteen-year-old Miranda fell in love with a fellow college student, not realizing the severe impact his beliefs would have in her life. While Carl had been a fortress, she hadn't known that "a fortress could be a prison." A widow with six children when the story opens, Miranda is conflicted as she struggles to free herself from the power her pastor holds over his rural congregation. "Sometimes she wasn't even sure she wanted freedom. Freedom wasn't safe."
Jack is a delightful character who is willingly thrust into Miranda's life while she recuperates from a fall. He persistently questions Miranda about the church's beliefs, urging her to search for what the Scriptures actually teach. "Mason's stolen your freedom. Your ability to think for yourself. All in the name of God." His love for the children and concern for Miranda give an urgency to his questioning, yet he exhibits a quiet, gentle strength.
One of the best parts of this book is the children. In a story involving six children, I would normally have a difficult time keeping up with "who's who," but Meg did a wonderful job at fleshing them out so that each child becomes memorable and captures your heart. They are the light in contrast to the darkness of Mason's teachings. It is a joy to watch them open up as Jack exposes them to fiction and other things that most children take for granted - their first visit to Wal-Mart, for instance. Jack proclaims . . .
"Every day's a school day. The world is our classroom. We'll take a field trip." . . . Wal-Mart might as well have been Tiffany's; the children, refugees from a third-world country. Dazzled, they stared at everything - and everyone - and their fellow shoppers stared back.
Meg is a gifted writer who uses her words skillfully. I'm familiar with the area around the northeast Georgia town of Clayton and thought she did a great job at describing the Blue Ridge mountain scenery and creating a sense of place. I particularly liked the scene where she describes how a distant view of mountains and stream made Jack think back to when he had seen a baptism long ago. "The white-robed figures and the voices singing without instruments had made him feel shut out, like a time traveler whose modern mind was too sterile, too barren, to grasp an ancient mystery. The lake could have been the Jordan River, and the preacher could have been John the Baptist."
Spiritual themes are subtly woven throughout this novel, and I felt that Meg showed respect and dignity as she reveals what life is like in a fringe, cult-like rural church. I highly recommend When Sparrows Fall to those who enjoy character-driven, inspirational fiction.
I'd like to end with a clip from the last few pages that conveys the essence of When Sparrows Fall . . .
The rain began to fall in earnest again, tapping on the porch roof and filling the air.
Water, water, everywhere. The stuff of miracles. Water, walked on. Turned to wine. An ark tossed about on it.
Water and earth made mud. Mud to heal a blind man's eyes.
Earth to entomb a man, and the voice of God to call him out. . . .
"I'm a sinner, Lord," Jack whispered, "but I'm Your sinner. May I always be in a condition accessible to mercy. So may we all." . . .
Jack leaned his head against Miranda's and tried to take it all in. The children in the rain. The pink petals like snow. The water running like a river, the washing of feet, the holy communion of saints. And every day was Easter.
Her head moved against his cheek as she followed the flight of a handful of sparrows against the dappled sky, their wings edged with light.
So many sparrows. Only God could count them all.