By Karen Cushman
Available now from Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Newberry Award medalist Karen Cushman's newest novel is also her first featuring a male protagonist. Will Sparrow's father sold him to an innkeeper for ale, but now Will is striking out on his own, determined to lie, steal, and cheat his way to a better life. Unfortunately for Will, he isn't half as hard as he thinks he is.
I think even less experienced readers (aka the kiddos this book is aimed at) will realize that Will isn't the most perceptive spyglass on the binocular shelf. (I really wanted to go for a metaphor there, but it just isn't working. Please suggestion what I should have said in the comments.) He's often cheated by others, and when he falls in with a couple of oddities and their leader, their actions show their true character long before Will catches on. Plus, most modern readers won't assume, as Will does, that dwarfism is some punishment for sin.
But while Will manages to get into trouble due to his inability to read people and situations, he also gets into trouble because he's not cut out to be a thief. He can justify some of the things he steals, but overall he doesn't have the desperation or the cruelty to survive on stolen goods. He's young and still has time to learn which people he can trust, befriend, and model himself upon.
I love how fully Cushman can bring Elizabethan England to life in so few pages. Her characters are not modern people dropped into the past. Their mindset is very different than our own, though they hope for so many of the same things. (Freedom, shelter, friends, comfort - the basics.) Perhaps the most modern is Grace Wyse, but she's developed as an outcast from society due to her appearance.
Reading WILL SPARROW'S ROAD took me back to read CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY and THE MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE back in elementary school. Cushman knows her niche, even when she changes it up a little. Her historical novels are very human and give interesting insight into history.