Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sparrow Migrations by Cari Noga

Michigan author Cari Noga wrote Sparrow Migrations as part of  the 2010 National Novel Writing Month. The manuscript languished waiting for a publisher to accept it. Finally Noga self-published. The book was a semifinalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and is being published by Lake Union Publishing. I first heard about the book in a Detroit Free Press news article.

The novel follows the stories of three families whose lives were impacted by the 2009 "Miracle On the Hudson." Noga explores how the experience altered their perception, their goals, and their family lives.

Christopher and Deborah had successful careers when their plane went down in the Hudson. They had spent years trying to get pregnant without success. Christopher's post-crisis reaction is to enjoy the life they had been given, telling Deborah that becoming pregnant had taken over their lives and kept them on an emotional roller coaster. But Deborah had come through the experience more determined than ever to have a child. Her consequent choices divide them.

Linda and Sam and their twelve-year-old son Robby were on the ferry near where the plane came down. Linda and Sam are in different places concerning acceptance of Robby's autism and how it has changed their expectations of parenthood. Robby saw the Canada Geese flying near the plane and it has sparked his interest in learning more about birds--hoping to understand how to prevent more accidents along their migration paths. As his parents struggle to allow Robby the freedom to follow his passion they discover their son has depths they had never understood.

Brett was to have been on the fatal plane but delayed her return to her pastor husband and their child. She was supposed to be learning about food pantries as mission outreach. Instead she'd had an assignation with her female lover, another pastor's wife. Suffocated by the expectations of her role, and alienated by a husband married to the church, Brett faces the decision to out herself and destroy her family or to play the role she's been playing for years for the sake of her daughter.

The paths of the characters take them from the Hudson and into their their private crises until their lives intersect again with hope and redemption.

Robby is a memorable character and his story is informed by the Noga's own autistic son. The characters are memorable and likable. We learn much about autism and its impact on family. Robby's father is particularly interesting as he observes the changes in Robby because of his newly found passion.

I have known several couples who have tried to get pregnant. I won't give away the plot but Christopher and Deborah's marriage is threatened by their differences and by information withheld. Their marriage can only be saved by forgiveness and honesty.

I was particularly interested in Brett's story line. She and Richard had met in college and bonded over a mutual interest in Social Justice. Years later finds the Reverend has lost his boundaries; his role as minister has become his only identity and his ultimate concern. He has allowed the congregation's values to become his own. He shows no prophetic leadership.

We know Richard mostly through his words when he tells his family what he expects from them. Their daughter Amanda is told to fit in, don't stand out, don't show off--a long series of expectations that protect his image to the congregation and puts his child's best interests in the back seat--maybe out of the car all together. His relationship with his wife is called 'platonic' but truly is not even a friendship any more; she is just there for appearances and to enhance his image. I found him a detestable character.

Noga knows about parenting an autistic child. She had to imagine the other character's stories. Richard seems too much of a stereotype, but that is perhaps because I understand what a pastor's life is like and have known pastoral marriages impacted by a spouse coming out. I enjoyed the references to Michigan places.
Publishers Weekly said: “The plot lines are sophisticated, the characters intricately drawn, and the book has a remarkably strong voice… brimming with humanity and grace.”
I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Sparrow Migrations
Cari Noga
Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: June 23, 2015
Paperback $14.95
ISBN: 9781477830888