Every Sparrow Falling – Shirley-Anne McMillan

Family doesn’t exist, I told myself. Not for people like me, anyway.

Cari has spent her life being bounced from one foster home to the next, never staying in one place long enough for any to feel like family. Now sixteen, her latest placement is with Dawn and Jacky, an elderly couple from Ballybaile, Northern Ireland who are “seasoned God-botherers”.

Three months into this placement Robin Merrow, a boy from Cari’s school, goes missing. The local rumour mill is having a field day, particularly Jessica and “the God squad”.

Cari has been spending time with Jessica and her Youth Fellowship friends at the urging of her foster parents but she’d much rather be hanging out with Stevie B., Brains and Muff, who relieve some of Cari’s boredom with actual fun. Jessica’s friends were mostly interchangeable to me but I really liked Brains.

The people in the town seemed to forget all about Robin’s disappearance after a while and while I did eventually learn a summary of his story, none of its content was really dealt with. While several social themes are touched on in this book, most don’t get a great deal of page time, such as when a character suddenly blurted out something huge about their past.

The blurb is accurate to a point, although the book ended up veering off into an entirely unexpected direction. Had I had any indication that a major plot point would focus on the intersection between homosexuality and Christian faith I may have steered clear.

To be fair, some characters in this book are not judgemental and others are well intentioned but naive. However there are also those who wander into conversion therapy territory. Sadly these conversations are quite realistic; I have heard eerily similar accounts from friends whose churches attempted to ‘heal’ them of homosexuality. With a reasonable amount of this story taking place around church activities I enjoyed Cari’s perspective as an outsider.

I identified with Cari’s feelings about foster care and would have liked to have seen this explored further. Her foster mother, Dawn, is firm but caring and Jacky, her foster father, is essentially a teddy bear. I adored Jacky. Cari fairly consistently doesn’t come home when she’s supposed to and they know she’s not truly sorry when she apologises, yet they still decide they need to trust her more by converting the garage into an apartment for her. This didn’t ring true for me. Having had my own experience with a Christian foster family that were of the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ persuasion, I appreciated Dawn and Jacky’s genuineness, but they did seem too good to be true.

Content warnings include depression, homophobia and mention of sexual assault and bullying.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Atom, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘Be nice to the majority of people and they won’t bother you much. Don’t get too involved. Have a laugh but keep your distance.’

These are the words 16-year-old Cariad lives by. She’s just been placed in yet another foster home, this time with an elderly Christian couple in a small town off the coast of Northern Ireland.

Cariad knows how to play this game. She’ll toe the line just enough that her new foster parents don’t ask what she gets up to when the sun goes down, just enough that they leave her alone. It’s easier that way.

But when a boy at school disappears – presumed dead – and no one seems to care, it really bothers her. Then one night out walking on the clifftops, she sees him and he asks her to keep his secret.

‘Don’t get too involved. Have a laugh but keep your distance.’

These are the words Cariad has lived by … until now.

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