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In the tradition of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, a devastating but hopeful YA debut about a ballerina who finds the courage to confront the abuse that haunts her past and threatens her future.

There are two kinds of people on the planet. Hunters and prey
I thought I would be safe after my mother died. I thought I could stop searching for new places to hide. But you can’t escape what you are, what you’ve always been.
My name is Savannah Darcy Rose.
And I am still prey.

Though Savannah Rose―Sparrow to her friends and family―is a gifted ballerina, her real talent is keeping secrets. Schooled in silence by her long-dead mother, Sparrow has always believed that her lifelong creed―“I’m not the kind of girl who tells”―will make her just like everyone else: Normal. Happy. Safe. But in the aftermath of a brutal assault by her seemingly perfect boyfriend Tristan, Sparrow must finally find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past, or lose herself forever….

320 pages

First published March 17, 2020

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About the author

Mary Cecilia Jackson

2 books73 followers
Mary Cecilia Jackson has worked as a middle school teacher, an adjunct instructor of college freshmen, a technical writer and editor, a speechwriter, a museum docent, and a development officer for central Virginia's PBS and NPR stations. Her first novel, Sparrow, was an honor recipient of the SCBWI Sue Alexander Award and a young-adult finalist in the Writers' League of Texas manuscript contest. She lives with her architect husband, William, in Western North Carolina and Hawaii, where they have a farm and five ridiculously adorable goats.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 278 reviews
March 16, 2020
Completely different than what I expected!

I thought this would be a romance with a lot of angst and a girl with a bad ex-boyfriend she is trying to get over but it was much deeper than that. It was about tragedy and how one tragedy can affect a person’s life if it isn’t dealt with. How one incident or a relationship with issues can lead to other relationships with very similar issues. It also is about how one bad relationship can affect so many people, not just the two people involved.

Savannah Darcy Rose (a.k.a. Sparrow) is a seventeen year old student and ballet prodigy. She hangs out with the ballet and drama crowd and has two best friends Delaney and her dance partner Lucas. Both her and Delaney have had a crush on Tristan, the hot rich boy at school, and he notices Sparrow and soon becomes her boyfriend.

Sparrow lost her mother when she was very young and has recurring nightmares that feature her mother. She lives with her father Avery Rose, a defense attorney and her aunt Sophie. Both her father and her aunt love her very much and treat her well. Her father questions Tristan when he first takes her out like any father would. They see how well Tristan treats Sparrow.

However, Tristan gets very jealous of Lucas and any time she spends with Lucas including dance practice. Her friends become suspicious when they see Tristan yelling at her. It turns out a Tristan is not as perfect as he seemed to be. Of course Lucas has always known this because Tristan has bullied him since fifth grade for being a ballet dancer.

Though Tristan can’t really bully Lucas much anymore since Lucas grew to be 6’5” and very muscular from dance. But Tristan still makes degrading and homophobic comments about Lucas being a dancer. Lucas is good at ignoring, but not so much after Sparrow starts dating Tristan. The character development in this book is terrific, as is the world building.

Lucas has his own troubles at home, but he continues to try and help Sparrow. Though something tragic happens and each of the characters has different reactions and issues that arise because of it. I won’t say much more than that, but the journey each character takes to recovery is terrific and the story deals with the psychological effects in a fantastic way. However, I can’t decide if I liked the ending. In some ways I do and in some ways I don’t, you’ll understand if you read the book!

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

May 4, 2023

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I think there's a rule somewhere that says that if an author writes a book about ballet, you are legally required to read it. How else to explain my apparent compulsion in picking up books about ballet, even though I've never really had an interest in it before in my life? Something about the discipline required, the athleticism, and the intense emotions just appeals to me on a very base level.

SPARROW is a book about a high school ballerina named Sparrow. She has close friends and is passionate about ballet. When she ends up going out with the hot jock on campus, Tristan, it seems like her whole life is perfectly rounded out. But Tristan is not a nice boy; and when he attacks her one day, she must spend the rest of the book not just having to recover, emotionally and physically, but also face the dark, half-buried memories from childhood that his abuse has inadvertently uncovered.

I didn't realize this when I picked up the book, but SPARROW is a dual-POV story. Half is told from Sparrow's POV and the other half is told from the POV of the Nice Guy who she's friendzoned, Lucas. I kind of wish the whole book had been narrated from Sparrow's POV, because it kind of ends up feeling like one of those cautionary tales Nice Guys feed girls to gaslight women into dating them, e.g. "He's no good for you, I'm the only one who can treat you right, hope he beats you to teach you a lesson, etc." Lucas isn't like that at all, but I'm not sure having that dichotomy in the narrative was a good move.

I liked Sparrow's POV, but wasn't as big a fan of Lucas. This is a story of healing and confronting abuse, and while the author did that part of the book really well, I didn't really feel like Lucas's POV had any place in Sparrow's journey of healing. The writing is beautiful and it does portray an abusive relationship pretty realistically-- to the point where it's hard to read at times-- but something about it felt a little too dramatic and contrived, and it kind of ended up feeling like a Lifetime movie.

SPARROW is not a bad book but I would not put it on the same level with Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK, as the blurb writers did. That only raises somewhat unrealistic expectations.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy! 

2.5 stars
Profile Image for Cortney -  The Bookworm Myrtle Beach.
822 reviews107 followers
December 9, 2019
This book felt very disjointed to me. I felt like I was missing part of the story... it didn't flow at all. There was no real background to the characters (I didn't even realize that Sophie was her dad's sister until about 100 pages in), the small mentions of her mother were confusing without the context of what actually happened, and Tristan and Sparrow's relationship was hardly described at all. One minute they're on the first date, and then fast-forward and she's afraid of him. Skipping all stuff leading up to the abuse took away my involvement in their relationship, and quite honestly, took away any care I had about these characters.

And am I the only know who noticed the overabundance of stupid nicknames? Everyone had like 10 different nicknames, and the dialogue felt forced... like what an adult thinks teenagers sound like.

At the end of the day, I still think it was a good story, but you could absolutely tell this was a debut novel.

**I received this book as an ARC
Profile Image for Erin .
1,229 reviews1,141 followers
December 30, 2019
Giveaway win!

2.5 stars

Sparrow is a quick read but it didn't make me feel anything.

Sparrow is about a very talented ballet dancer Savannah "Sparrow" Rose who is very good at keeping secrets. She just wants to be normal and safe but in the aftermath of a violent assault by her "perfect" boyfriend she must find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past.

I thought I would be upset while reading this but I wasn't. I didn't feel any emotions one way or the other. It was an okay read but it wasn't the powerful and heartbreaking read I thought it would be.

No rec.
Profile Image for Stay Fetters.
2,060 reviews127 followers
April 30, 2020
"The truth of it all is that you can’t be brave until you’re frightened out of your wits and still do the thing that needs doing. You have to be scared to be brave."

Abuse is something that happens to more people than we would like to think. One in four women over eighteen years of age has experienced abuse by an intimate partner. Mental and physical abuse takes over your life and it veers you on the wrong track. When enough is enough, would you be brave enough to speak up?

Sparrow's entire world is her family/friends and most importantly ballet. She is the lead dancer in Swan Lake with her dancing partner, Lucas. They work hard and train even harder to be pure perfection. Then something steps in the way of her life and takes control.

Tristan King sweeps Sparrow off of her feet. He’s the light in her life and little by little he takes control. An argument escalates into something more and more each time they’re together. It goes from verbal to physical quick but Sparrow only wants to make Tristan happy. She deals with it while disassociating herself from her friends and the things she loves most.

Then the excuses start coming. Lucas speaks with Sparrow and Delaney about the abuse but Sparrow tells them different clumsy tales of what happened.

Things get terrifying when Sparrow suggests a break from Tristan. Will Sparrow soar high and lead herself away from this abuse? Or will she let it consume her?

This was a really hard book to read. It was a great book and it hits you where it hurts but it was rough. I’m not going to lie. This brought forward so many raw emotions from me that I would break out in goosebumps and weep. This definitely left a mark in my life and on my heart.

Sparrow and Lucas are the two best single characters that I’ve read in a while and you break alongside both of them. My emotions are still strong for them and their stories.

Sparrow is a difficult but important read. The statistics alone are heartbreaking and reading about it is seriously eye-opening. If you see something, speak up. Tell someone who you trust. Just remember that you’re loved and important in this world. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Profile Image for The Nerd Daily.
720 reviews345 followers
February 27, 2020
Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Louise Nice

Sparrow’s life is all about school, friends, and ballet. This is until she gets hit by Tristan King’s car and falls for him. Soon she finds herself in a controlling relationship.

Sparrow is a confronting, but very important tale of a young up-and-coming ballerina being abused and assaulted by her boyfriend. The tale is told in two perspectives, Sparrow herself and Lucas, her best friend who tries to stop her from getting hurt. This book deals with themes such as domestic violence, abuse, and a controlling relationship so please be aware if you are sensitive to such themes and events.

The boyfriend, Tristan King is gorgeous and dashing, and he used to be a big bully to Sparrow and her friends. Sparrow thinks that he’s changed over time, but none of her friends think so, and she is hellbent on proving them wrong. The speed of the development of this relationship went from 0 to 100 very fast, and was starting to worry her friends. Unfortunately, it turns out that not only is he a bully, he is also abusive and controlling. Yikes.

The way the book is written, Sparrow talks about events and brushes them off as they happened, as if she’s too afraid to speak ill of what is happening. This is comparison to Lucas’s perspective, where he describes the same events with a lot more detail. This is analogous to the characters themselves, Sparrow is quiet and withdrawn, whereas Lucas attempts to be loud and vocal.

In the book, as Tristan became more and more abusive and controlling, Sparrow tried her darnedest to not say anything and act like everything is fine, just like how her mother told her in the past when she was also abusive. This in hand breaks Lucas’s heart, seeing that Sparrow has blocked him and Delaney (Sparrow’s other best friend) out her life as Tristan sinks his claws into Sparrow.

I found that at times that events were out of order, such as where Sparrow would brush on something that has happened, often with little detail, and then the same event was described by Lucas later on in the book, instead of around the time Sparrow herself mentioned it. This lead me to be confused a bit at times, but Lucas as an insightful character clears things up as the novel went on.

I did however appreciate the way the author tackled this book in a way that felt raw and heartbreaking, especially given several circumstances within the book. It felt well researched and the events that conspire between Sparrow and Tristan feel as though that they could happen in real life, even if we don’t ever wish that.

Overall, this YA contemporary is a heartfelt and heartbreaking tale of a young lady who is just trying to learn to deal with the ghost of her mother haunting her, whilst trying to keep quiet from the abuse she cannot see (when others can and try to help but get turned away) for herself. Whilst the timeline of events can feel jagged at times, the themes within this book are well written and will pull on heartstrings of those who pick up this book. I recommend this book to anyone who has read I Hold Your Heart by Karen Gregory.
Profile Image for JenacideByBibliophile.
209 reviews126 followers
March 18, 2020
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Tor teen, via Netgalley for an honest review.

“Affliction is enamored of thy parts, and thou art wedded to calamity”

-William Shakespeare, Romero and Juliet


“‘What is the haunted name, the secret name of your deepest self?’

And I answer, ‘Sorrow.’”

Sparrow lives and breathes ballet. Working with her ballet company and training for their rendition of Swan Lake for the Winter Gala has been a dream come true, and she couldn’t ask for a better partner than her childhood friend Lucas. And when she literally runs into a beautiful boy from her class, Tristan King, a heated romance sparks between the two that is both addicting and fierce. But sometimes Tristan isn’t always the boy she fell in love with, sometimes he changes. A quick flash of eyes like black holes and soft features that sharpen into granite have become Sparrow’s waking nightmare. But Tristan isn’t the only darkness that surrounds her in pirouettes. The death of her mother consumes her, wakes her in the night and follows her like an entity feeding from her soul. Sparrow is drowning.

“The earth tilts beneath me. My hand falls into the rushing water, blood spooling out from my fingers, dark ribbons in the moonlight stream. The stars flare and disappear. I float away on a sea of mercies.”


“I try hard to breathe, and then I remember.

Dead girls can’t breathe.”


This was a heavy hitter.

I haven’t highlighted sentences and paragraphs like this in a book since…well, maybe ever. Practically my entire kindle edition of Sparrow is yellow. And if that doesn’t express the immense haunting beauty that this book is, well, allow me to elaborate.

Sparrow is the story of a girl falling into darkness.

A swan princess becoming the Black Swan.


Sparrow is dedicated, charming, spirited and loving. She pours every ounce of hurt and emotion into her dancing, and it is the only time she can breathe and speak with her heart without screaming. When we first meet her, her infectious and fun personality shines through immediately. She is a typical teenage girl who laughs, acts silly, goes to school and gossips with friends. She is living out her dreams of dancing as Odette in the Swan Lake, and she is thriving. But when she begins her relationship with Tristan, everything shifts.

“Count the houses. Count the streetlights.

Count the minutes until Tristan turns back into the boy I love.”

The beginning of their relationship begins and goes by fast, skipping ahead to three months before I even realized what was happening. It started out like an insta-love relationship and I was a little put off, but as the story progresses you realize there is a reason for why it was written like this. It is told in some chapters by Sparrow, and some by Lucas. Through each of their eyes you see different versions of each scenario, how Sparrow sees things, and how Lucas is viewing the reality.

“It’s almost a relief when he hits me.

Everything comes back to me, all of it. I remember to tighten my body so I won’t fall, how to pull up, just like in ballet, every muscle taut and prepared. I know how to protect my face, where to hold my arms to keep the first, the strongest blows from reaching the softest parts of my body.”

To say that it was easy to read Sparrow’s journey would be an outright lie. It was so painful witnessing the abuse that Tristan rained down on her. The mood swings, his possessive nature, and how he would so ruthlessly talk down to Sparrow as if she didn’t matter. His cruelty and darkness towards her was frightening. He would scream hateful comments at her, demeaning her and calling her worthless or a slut. His anger was volatile and sudden, a tsunami engulfing a peaceful beach.

“If only he’d look at me, give me a smile, tell me with his eyes that I’m forgiven, that he loves me, that we are okay.

If only I could forget his hand on my throat, the pressure of his fingers, the fury of his eyes.”


But what was worse, was Sparrow’s unflinching love and loyalty for this monster. She was enamored with him when he was sweet, when he treated her with affection and promised her love and the world. She so easily brushed aside his temper and rage, and refused to admit that his hitting her and abusing her was actually his choice. And even when her friends questioned his treatment of her, she was adamant about defending him and refusing to open up. Sparrow is like a steel door, chained and bolted. Everything stays hidden and locked away, and she deals with everything alone.

“This is my fault, my fault, my fault. He loves me. He loves me so much. He tells me all the time. This will pass. We’ll be fine. He’ll feel terrible in a few minutes, and there will be apologies and tears and promises and kisses.

I will forgive him, because I love him.”

It was heartbreaking to have to sit and watch her fall away into nothing, until it was too late.

“The Swan Queen is dead.”

What I love about this story is how seamlessly everything connects. Throughout the story Sparrow has dreams and memories of her mother that come up, more and more often as her relationship with Tristan builds and she begins to fade away. With her mother dying when she was a young girl, the unresolved emotions from her passing has now found it’s way into Sparrow’s every day life. Her mother begins to consume her thoughts, emotions and reactions. She quickly finds herself in a dark space that she can’t find her way out of, and the past that they shared begins to shed light on who she has become.


“I promise, Mama. I’ll be quiet. I’ll be good.

I am not the kind of girl who tells.”

There is a turning point in this story when Tristan goes too far, and it is…devastating. The aftermath of what Sparrow becomes, a shell of herself now filled with anger and rage, was one of the hardest things I’ve read. My heart broke a thousand times over as I witnessed the pain and betrayal that this poor girl suffered, and the atrocities of how Tristan is dealt with. Sparrow becomes unrecognizable and defeated. It was like every ounce of light was sucked out of her soul, and all that was left was pitch black nothingness.

“I’m the Black Swan.

Curses swirl in my blood. Wickedness is buried in my bones, bound to make everyone who loves me suffer. I’m a black hole, a night without stars, drawing pain and grief and heartbreak to me like a magnet. Destined to make no one happy ever.

I am my mother’s daughter.”


“He told me once that he could hear what people were thinking in the silent spaces between their spoken words. That he could tell what someone was feeling just by looking into their eyes. So I wonder, as I have so many times since I was small, why he couldn’t see the terror in my eyes.”

Though Lucas plays a big part in giving us an important outside look and perspective on Sparrow, I think his side story was a tad unnecessary and I found myself slightly skipping through them. I think the story would have benefited if it went into less detail about what he was doing at his grandmother’s house, and really dove deeper into Sparrow and the aftermath of Tristan. It felt like some parts of her story were rushed over, while Lucas was given a lot more development and focus. Which was confusing to me.

But what was important about his book apart from Sparrow’s experience, was how her abuse affected those around her. So many times the friends and loved ones are forgotten in traumatic experiences. They also go through the hurt and pain alongside the victim, so I was glad to see this story gave them a voice as well. Overall, this story was beyond beautiful. It was a poetic tale of abuse and trauma that got extremely dark and raw. I highly recommend this to anyone that enjoys getting their heart shredded, or just wants to read a book that will actually make you feel something.

“All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“At the end of everything, a fish dive.”
Profile Image for El.
253 reviews10 followers
February 27, 2020
*received an arc from netgalley*

This was a really poignant book but we just got off on the wrong foot & I just couldn’t get that mental block out of my mind.

At first it’s pretty cringy, typical YA stuff but then it completely changes! I liked having Lucas’ perspective but it did confuse me the first time when the story suddenly rewinded & I wasn’t sure what was going on with that but it actually worked really well for the rest of the book.

I also really liked the time frame on this because we see the before, during & after of abuse, which I feel like I haven’t seen before.
It also dealt with different types of abuse & how they can link together.

Overall, this is a really different, unique book that I really enjoyed! It started off badly for me - but I’m warning you now - so hopefully you can go into this with an open mind & not get stuck on the beginning!
110 reviews
December 9, 2019
I received an ARC of “Sparrow” through bookish first in exchange for an honest review.

Triggers: Anyone who is interested in this books should know that there are themes of physical, emotional, and physiological abuse.

I really wanted to enjoy this book and initially I did, but I’ve got to be honest...I struggled to make it to the end. The themes of this book are so heavy and many of the characters who could lighten that, just don’t. Lucas...whiny Lucas who had little to no character growth or development. I wanted to like him but I just didn’t. I didn’t enjoy reading from his POV and I didn’t think he was the answer to all of Sparrow’s problems.

Sparrow, naive, sweet Sparrow...it was torture watching how meek, submissive, and complaint she was for Tristan. I wish the the author would have shown us the manipulation, how Tristian convinced her he loved her and got her back...again and again. Instead we were just told about it. Likewise, we never got see why she loved him in the first place. I wish the author would have convinced me Tristian loved Sparrow before she showed his darker side. It felt like they got together and he began abusing her right away.

I think this book had great potential, I loved Delaney!! It just missed the mark for me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
September 25, 2019
This was a beautiful but heart-breaking novel. Sparrow is a talented ballerina with a difficult past who becomes the victim of a violent assault at the hands of her abusive boyfriend. The story follows Sparrow both before and after the attack as she struggles to rebuild her life as well as following the perspective of her best friend and dance partner Lucas who secretly adores her.

Despite the difficult subject matter I found the book addictive and very readable due to the writing style and I fell in love with the characters of Lucas and Sparrow and with their family and friends. I don’t read many contemporary books and I was only drawn to this because the main character was a ballerina – now I intend to read more books like this as I really enjoyed it. Highly recommended.
E-Arc received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Caffeinated Fae.
595 reviews38 followers
March 23, 2020
**Macmillan has removed the eBook embargo as of today 3/17/2020!**

TW: Domestic Violence, Abuse

Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson will stick with you. It's poignant, well written, and engaging. This book was nothing that I expected but something that may hit home. This book deals with some extremely serious events, so be warned and ready to have that discussion with your child if/when they pick this book up.

When I first started the book, I fell in love with the characters. Both Sparrow & Lucas' points of view were interesting to read. Their personalities were deeply flawed, and I liked that. I also enjoyed watching their friendships change and grow into themselves. At times all I wanted to do was wrap them both in my arms and tell them that everything would be okay.

The plot was fast-paced, engaging, and anxiety-inducing. At multiple times I had to put the book down and find something happier to engage in. The violence in this book will hit you in all the wrong places. It doesn't sugarcoat the abuse, and it was a hard read to get through.

All in all, this book is a hard-hitting book that will stick with you after you read it. I enjoyed it, but I have to be honest and say that I will not reread it.
Profile Image for Darla.
3,337 reviews523 followers
March 16, 2020
"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o'er wrought heart and bids it break."
--William Shakespeare (Macbeth)
Sparrow's story broke my heart, but did not leave me without hope. I was enthralled by this book. The cover image speaks volumes. The first part of the book is filled with the banter Sparrow shares with her dance friends -- especially Lucas and Delaney. We are given an intimate look behind the scenes of their preparation for dancing Swan Lake. We also see Sparrow's relationship developing with Tristan King, her first serious boyfriend. When red flags arise, Sparrow plows past -- not wanting to listen to friends and family who raise concerns. This story will drag you down into the pit of despair, but it will not leave you there. I loved the character development of Sparrow and Lucas; the Psalms that Sparrow finds comfort in; the choices Jackson made in depicting and defining the relationships; and the honest depiction of the hard work it takes to come back from abuse. This is one of the best YA books I have read in a long time.
"Hereafter, in a better world than this, I shall desire more love and knowledge of you."
--William Shakespeare (As You Like It)

Thank you for St. Martins Press and NetGalley for a digital ARC in exchange for an honest revew.
Profile Image for Kitty Marie.
183 reviews39 followers
June 7, 2020
This YA contemporary is very heavy and dark. I think the description/blurb does well enough to inform the reader of such, but it was still beyond what I'd imagined. The story has a few unexpected turns and covers two distinct perspectives.

The first perspective is that of the titular character, Savannah Rose aka Sparrow. She studies ballet at an academy and seems like a pretty average 17 year-old girl until more is revealed. She is haunted by memories and vivid nightmares about her mother who passed away when she was little.

She meets Tristan King, a student at her school. The two start dating and she falls hard for him. The secondary character is Lucas, a friend of Savannah who notices signs of toxicity in her relationship with Tristan. His efforts to come to her aid send him down an increasingly troubled path.

Both perspectives are vividly portrayed but both leads are quite flawed and don't have enough charisma. Some earlier sections drag. The plot thickens in the latter half and the story remains interesting. When all was said and done, I do feel that the characters drove this book and I couldn't quite connect with them or find their personalities or perspectives enthralling enough. Disclosure : I was provided an ARC of this book for review.
Profile Image for Caitlin Theroux.
Author 2 books24 followers
November 10, 2019
Thank you to Edelweiss for allowing me to read a digital ARC. This review contains my opinion only and does not reflect the views of the publisher or the author.

All of my reviews contain spoilers.

I wanted to love this a lot more than I did, and I also wanted to be more angry with it than I was as well.

Sparrow follows two narrators--the titular character and her best friend Lucas--after a devastating assault on Sparrow by her abusive boyfriend, Tristan King. Both she and Lucas are students at the same high school in Virginia, and both dance ballet at the same conservatory. Sparrow's friends and family have to learn to pick up the pieces and recover alongside her once she wakes up from the coma Tristan puts her in.

So...this book was good? The question mark represents my confusion with why it wasn't better. I'll say right now that because it's a debut, I understand where some of the writing went a bit under-polished, and the author's history as a speechwriter comes through pretty clearly in the last third of the piece. As a debut, it's good. Novel writing is hard. No avoiding that. And for Jackson to pull through after six years of work and release her precious book-baby into the world for us to read and review, that's ballsy. It's always ballsy. I'm not disappointed in this book. I enjoyed it. I do expect more from Jackson on her next outing, though.

The characters. Oh, the characters. Do you think they were good, Sparrow? Sweetie, I understand if you don't want to tell me your opinion, sweetheart, I really do. But, Sparrow, you've gotta talk to us now, honey. Birdy. Love.

SO. MANY. NAMES. IN. DIALOGUE. People don't talk like this. They don't. When I jaw at my husband about something, I say his name for emphasis in the middle of a conversation. "...blahblahblah and you would not believe how good that steak was, Connor. For real. You wouldn't." Period. Maybe one more time I'd call him by any sort of epithet, but that's all. Conversation flows when you know someone. You hardly even have to use a pet name to get their attention. The fact that you're speaking will usually suffice to make them listen, especially when you're close like best friends or family. Overabundant names and the unending use of "okay?" really set my teeth on edge and made me want to skim most of the dialogue at the end third.

For the most part, the characters started out good. I don't know if the author knew how to develop them and draw them out of themselves, though, because they didn't grow the way I anticipated them to. Sparrow does the most changing, but she suffers a massive trauma. We understand her arc. After losing his dad and moving in with his grandmother, Lucas is still...Lucas. Still the whiny teenager I really came to not enjoy reading. Delaney has my heart out of all the cast, and I wish Jackson had latched onto her as a stronger player in Sparrow's life.

The prose was good! No big complaints there. Really, my biggest issues are with the people not sounding like people, and so much stuff happening "off screen." We're told constantly about events that transpired without having a window through which to view those events. Like when Christmas comes and Lucas' mom and sister visit him at Granny Deirdre's house. We're TOLD that it happens. In passing. When the author has built up to that being important. For this reason I couldn't stand Lucas by the end of the book. He is not given the justice he deserves, and his family--with the exception of Anna--fall flat. I wanted to feel for them more, wanted their struggle to be visceral and heartbreaking. They just lost a father/son/husband! Then Sparrow gets attacked! Then Lucas beats the hell out Tristan and the family is a mess!!! Where's my heartache?!

Little things like Sophie cooking when she's stressed, Delaney being a stan of the Bard, Madame Levkova's ENTIRE history, and the whole clump of other boys we met at the beginning of the book having quirks--all of that is glossed over for inane paragraphs of sprawling dialogue that sounds so clunky and forced. These bitty details had the potential to bring these characters to life and have them inhabit a whole world for us, beside us, to drag us in and make us feel everything they felt. But we were only told about them. And that brought the emotion to a roaring standstill.

I have to chalk these complaints up to Jackson being a first-time novelist. This will come with experience. The story was good, and I genuinely felt bad for Sparrow. I've got some trauma and repressed memories, and I could identify with her strongly. Everyone else though? Meh.

Should Mary Cecilia Jackson ever happen to see this review, though I doubt that's even a possibility with how big the Internet is, I just want her to know a couple of things.

1) Listen to how your characters talk. Listen to real-world people talk. Then write conversations. Don't make characters say what you think would come naturally. Actually take the time to hear their voice before you write a single word of dialogue for them. That will eliminate the problem with clunky, expositional dialogue.

2) Show us those moments that seem tiny!!! Christmas, Delaney's square dance, Sophie cooking when she's stressed, Avery walking around in a suit barefoot, all of those tiny things. They don't sound important, but they are. With real people, these traits make them people. I have a tendency to pick up projects and then drop them just as fast, but if you only ever told a reader that instead of showing them the piles of cookbooks, sewing, sketchpads, musical instruments, etc. in my room, they'd never have a deep feeling of how that is. Show that with a character constantly having a new hobby. Show us. Please.

3) Limit your character lectures. Don't make us suffer the same long-winded moments that a bratty teenage boy wouldn't want to experience either. If he's hating it, we will too.

4) Flesh out your side characters. They're not blips. They're massive players in the lives of your characters, even if they only stumble in from stage left once in a while. Think about people: your best friend's childhood friend who has problems will spill over into your best friend's life, which in turn will make you experience those things too. Characters are not just cardboard cutouts, even when the people we meet can be vapid and dull. Make them real. Give them flesh of paper and blood of ink. We want to feel everything in a story. That's why we read.

Sparrow was good. My review may not reflect that, but it was. I would put this on my library shelf or personal shelf, or both. You don't always have to be super dark (Ellen Hopkins, looking at you), and you don't always have to skim around an issue either. There is a happy medium when dealing with heavy subject matter, and this book does a good job of finding that warm spot. Next time we're asking for a stronger effort, that's all. And with the experience Jackson has now with writing a full novel, I think we're bound to get that.
Profile Image for Andy.
2,408 reviews189 followers
June 1, 2021
I received a physical ARC of this at Yallfest 2019 in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Sparrow is not an easy book to read, it has depictions of physical and emotional abuse. I mainly wanted this book because of the cover and because it has a ballerina MC. Sparrow has everything going right for her. When she is almost run over by a fellow classmate, he is so kind to her after the fact, they end up agreeing to go on a date. As the two start to date, her boyfriend becomes increasingly more controlling, demanding and even gets physically violent with her. Sparrow doesn't know how to placate him or how to save herself from an increasingly dangerous relationship.

The first half of this book was kind of weird. There are a ton of time jumps in the narrative and I found myself wondering if I'd missed something. The parts where Sparrow is in the abusive relationship were so hard to read. There are so many signs that things were getting worse, but Sparrow would constantly justify it with "but he loves me". Y'all just because someone loves you doesn't mean they won't hurt you. And love never justifies any kind of abuse, Never. I really wanted to pull Sparrow in and protect her.

This book is also told in dual POVs between Sparrow and her best friend/dance partner, Lucas. It was kind of weird how it was split between them--the first transition to Lucas's POV was very jarring. But I really liked seeing Lucas's POV.

The second half of the book deals with the aftermath of a violent attack which forces Sparrow to confront her trauma from her relationship with her boyfriend and childhood trauma from her mother. I really loved her therapist and the positive therapy rep. I loved seeing Sparrow start to come back to herself and find her voice so she could begin to process and heal. I loved seeing her begin that journey with herself, and her aunt and father. I loved seeing Sparrow's friends and teachers rally around her. I loved that the second half had basically zero emphasis on romance.

Overall, the first half was a bit messy and rough to read, but the second half made it worth it.
Profile Image for Kassie.
400 reviews472 followers
April 25, 2020
I could not put this book down. It was riveting and I had an obsessive need to get to the end. I absolutely loved the dancing throughout and I thought so much of the raw emotion were great.

My issues lay in the writing. First and foremost, I think this book relied heavily on shock value. We follow a girl falling in love with a boy who turns out to be abusive and we see this very quickly, as in within 20 pages we start to see big red flags. I wish this book and the author had taken a little more time before going into the graphic exchange of abuse in this story.

I also found a weird consistency of a lot of english verbiage and wording, although the book is set in the US and the author is also from the US. There is a grandmother character who is from Ireland but many of the characters use some terms more commonly seen in the UK, which I found distracting. I also found a lot of the nicknames characters used for each other distracting. They seemed to have the intent of cute and affectionate, but in reading it they felt rude. For example, the main character's nickname is "Sparrow" and her best friend often calls her "bird head."

Overall, I think there are better books about the topic of abuse out there. I thought the dance aspect was amazing. I felt like not enough people saw the red flags that were obvious almost immediately to me as the reader, which felt a little unreal. At the same time, this happens in real life all the time so I give this a lot of grace.

Trigger warnings:
relationship abuse
child abuse
graphic violence
emotional abuse
Profile Image for PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps .
2,304 reviews220 followers
March 23, 2020

The first line of the blurb for SPARROW compares Mary Cecelia Jackson’s debut to Laurie Halse Anderson’s groundbreaking SPEAK. When publishers set expectations so high, they ought to be prepared for a lot of disappointment if the story fails to meet the high standards.

Sparrow’s instalove relationship with Tristan goes from love to abuse nearly as instantly. There wasn’t enough time for me to see the positive side of Tristan even from the beginning when he strong-armed Sparrow into a first date through manipulation.

Jackson’s writing and her characters felt flat, without depth and personality. At times their untold backstories seemed more interesting than the story we were reading. Jackson seemed to understand the cycle of abuse from an intellectual, rather than an emotional angle, possibly because she researched dating and child abuse rather than experienced it herself as she says in the afterward. I don’t believe #OwnVoices are necessarily better than those who write outside of the experience. Sometimes being entrenched in the same journey as the character make books seem as if the writer’s experience is universal to all who fall under the same umbrella.

I did enjoy that ballet wasn’t part of Sparrow’s problems, it was simply her passion. Too often dancer stories made ballet the root of the character’s issues.

Because I can’t identify anything I liked about SPARROW (other than not vilifying ballet) or think of a reason to recommend, I only gave one star.
Profile Image for Samantha (WLABB).
3,429 reviews234 followers
August 25, 2020
Rating: 3.5 Stars

This was heartbreaking and even horrifying at times. I think it's good for young people to see depictions of these types of abusive relationships. To see all the subtle ways the abuser takes control of the other person's life. They way they get in their head and take advantage of their emotions. I expected to read about all that, but what was even more devastating for me was uncovering part of the reason she bought into the lies and manipulation.

I appreciated Lucas' point of view as someone who felt like he failed Savannah. At first, I didn't understand why he was getting so many chapters, but I liked seeing some of the events through his eyes. Getting that alternate perspective as to how Savannah viewed what happened.

Overall: A darker tale, which was both broke my heart and left me hopeful.
Profile Image for eyes.2c.
2,428 reviews50 followers
February 24, 2020

Domestic violence and children. Violence and boyfriends. A harrowing read! The story of Sparrow, a young woman, a gifted ballerina, and a victim of violence is a story of anguish, of darkness, and ultimately of hope and taking charge, after a long, long road to the start. More a goat track than a road really.
I must admit to not really liking the subject matter. I cannot deny though that I found Jackson's treatment of the topic empathetic, tight, tense and really well written.
Told in the voice of Sparrow, alternated with that of one of her best friend's, Marcus her dancing partner in Swan Lake, the read was a roller coaster of emotions and imaginings!
There is a side story about Marcus which was really well integrated. I loved his Irish grandmother (wise woman in the hills analogy), her acceptance and her wisdom, and Marcus' maturing.
I felt that their friend Delaney was a marvellous character who needs her own story.
In many ways Sparrow is still a mystery, but perhaps that's what new beginnings are about.

A Macmillan-Tor/Forge. ARC via NetGalley
Profile Image for Danielle (Life of a Literary Nerd).
1,171 reviews250 followers
March 8, 2020
DNF @ 21%
There are two kinds of people on the planet. Hunters and prey
I have to say that I'm really sad and disappointed that this book didn't work out for me. I thought it would be moving and emotional, but the writing and dialogue made everything feel stilted and lacking. While this is a harrowing story of abuse - it lacks the impact you would expect from such a story.

Savannah "Sparrow" Rose falls head over heels (literally) for Mr. Popular Jock, Tristan and is quickly enamored by his charms. However, things quickly turn dangerous and Tristan is repeated controlling and abusive. But the chapters are structured by months and every chapter or so we move forward and everything progresses rather quickly so there's no impact of seeing their relationship evolve. We don't see any of the 'good' times they had together, so it's even more heartbreaking that Sparrow sticks with Tristan in the bad.

I also had some problems with the writing. The dialogue was just awkward and felt forced, not like real people speaking. And the abundance of nicknames aside, the friend groups were okay, if a bit one dimensional. For the longest time I thought Sophie was Sparrows new stepmom, but turns out it's her Aunt. It wasn't very clear. And I didn't get this far, but apparently we get some chapters from a different perspective, Lucas - Sparrow's friend and dance partner. Having these insight chapters non-liner through the story could really work, but getting a fifth into the book and not getting one yet is kinda weird.

Sparrow is not a bad story, but I don't think it lived up to what I hope it would be either. I think this is a story you need to connect with at all layers for it to work, or else it's just going to seem off the whole time and with this subject matter, that would just be a shame. So not connecting with the writing style or the characters made this an unfortunate miss for me.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Trigger Warning for domestic abuse
Profile Image for Erin (erinevelynreads).
304 reviews34 followers
January 20, 2021
Sparrow is a dark, yet hopeful tale of a ballerina. Haunted by the death of her mother, and struggling to balance the demands of ballet with the needs of her controlling boyfriend Tristan, Savannah Rose – Sparrow – is struggling to keep up. Her dance partner and best friend Lucas is concerned for Sparrow and deeply distrustful of Tristan. When Sparrow is brutally assaulted by Tristan and refuses to speak for months that follow, she is forced to face her demons.

Haunting and beautiful, Sparrow is a story of strength and friendship. Told in alternating first-person perspectives between Sparrow and Lucas, it paints a portrait of a strong yet broken young dancer.

While I did like Sparrow as a character, I really enjoyed Lucas’ perspective. He deeply cares about Sparrow and it shows.

I highly recommend Sparrow to fans of heavier young-adult fiction!
Thank you to @TorTeen for the review copy!
Profile Image for Bonnie Grover.
783 reviews8 followers
March 23, 2020
“Nobody deserves to be hurt, Sparrow. Not little girls and not grown women. Not boys or men.” Friendship, love, loss and courage are the central themes of this beautifully written novel about a ballerina and her inner strength to move forward. I knew this book was about domestic violence, but it was layered with much more. Sparrow has to find courage to confront her past in order to face her future. Mary Cecilia Jackson tells a painful story from multiple perspectives. Each chapter begins with a Shakespearean quote which made me love it even more. Reminiscent of the book Speak, this YA novel needs to be read and shared with young people.
Profile Image for Mariah.
41 reviews
December 19, 2019
Mary Cecilia Jackson's “Sparrow” explores a sensitive topic with a unique perceptive through various viewpoints. The novel is slow in pace. I found the plot to be slightly difficult to understand, due to the fact that parts seemed to be missing. The author may have done this on purpose, because it can reflect a trauma victim’s mental state... I also found the dialogue to be too robotic and not natural. Someone trying to be a teenager, but failing at it. Nonetheless, I would recommend this novel for fans of the ballet, because of its accuracy of the art form.
Profile Image for sameera.
310 reviews2 followers
March 27, 2022
i kept rationalizing the weird twists and turns:
-thinking this would have multiple perspectives from the people around sparrow after her early "death" after the relationship between tristan progressed so fast.
-thinking the abusive mother patched up the holes missing from the abusive boyfriend storyline cause cycle and all

now i think this didn't know how to get to where it wanted to go. the middle portion was the strongest because it focused on character emotions. the rest was "we can ask skip why she stays with tristan in the beginning because we'll introduce the screwed up mother at end and that'll explain everything." could have been stronger if they had started with the mother and then introduced tristan because then we could have seen the thought process instead of guessing. or this could have focused on tristan because it's possible to enter an abusive relationship without prior trauma. the beginning is really hard to relate too because none of her rationalizations to stay with tristan are explained and she just seems blind and suffering from low self-esteem. i would have dnfed if that was something i did.

𓅪hearing badly pronounced french ballet terms with unaccented "y'alls" was jarring. mixing ballet, the south, and a standard american accent was an odd combination for an audiobook. although, i don't associate ballet with the south anyhow.

𓅪second time i remember reading something that references "heart of darkness" by joseph conrad (the first being "the last time we say goodbye" by cynthia hand). must be on the american high school reading list.

my reading notes that are only half-joking:
-virginia? i don't like the south unless ur the raven boys
-"it ends with us" by colleen hoover and now this with tristan's neurologist father. it's like abusive doctors (is that an oxymoron?) is a trope. also, the author was really into the abuse cycle from the looks of it.
Profile Image for Randi (randi_reads).
869 reviews198 followers
April 2, 2020
This was so much better than I thought it was going to be. I enjoyed all the characters in this book--Sparrow, Delaney, Lucas, and all the friends. They felt very real to me...their friendship, their banter, their emotions. I enjoyed both aspects of the book--getting Sparrow's POV and then Lucas' POV, too.

Sparrow is a teenage ballerina who literally runs into Tristan one day. He takes an interest in her and they start dating. She doesn't listen to one of her best friend's (Lucas) concerns about the type of person Tristan is and has always been. Well, we see what type of person is and it's not good. He is abusive and controlling. What we learn throughout the book is that Sparrow's mother was abusive and Sparrow feared her. Sparrow isn't over that trauma from her childhood and with Tristan it comes to a dangerous climax. Both Sparrow and Lucas have different reactions in dealing with it. It was an emotional journey for both of them and I enjoyed the ride.

Thank you to Tor Teen for my advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Milena.
732 reviews79 followers
January 13, 2020
4.5 stars

Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson reads like a cross between Broken Beautiful Hearts and Black Swan, which is wonderful because I loved both of them. It's a well written, heartbreaking and important story. There are triggers for dating violence, assault, and abuse, but it's a much-needed book for teenage girls and young women.

I loved the writing style, and even though it was difficult to read at times because of the subject matter, I still could not put the book down. I loved how the symbolism of Swan Lake was intertwined with the story. Lucas was my favorite character. I wish more boys in books were like him: loyal, sensitive, a great ballet dancer and not ashamed of it. The ending was not what I expected or wanted, but it was the right ending. I hope we will get another book because Sparrow and Lucas' story feels unfinished. Overall, Sparrow was an excellent read that will stay with me for a long time.

*ARC provided by the publisher and Bookish First
Profile Image for dumplin’.
83 reviews5 followers
March 26, 2020
i find that oftentimes, the most tragic books are also the most beautiful. while this rings almost true with sparrow, i feel like i am missing something. the book is disjointed; details feel left out at times. further, i feel the story almost didn’t come full circle. i feel unsatisfied with the end. overall, time well spent.
Profile Image for Brianna - Four Paws and a Book.
574 reviews23 followers
April 18, 2020
1.5 stars
This was one of my most anticipated reads of the first quarter and it was so disappointing. The back and forth of the timeline was so jarring and confusing. It seemed redundant. It just didn't' work. There was also such a quick jump from the hot new guy wanting to ask her out to her being so scared of him and fearing him. Unfortunately, this just wasn't the book for me.
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