The Strength of a Sparrow is based on a true story of Bouvette Sherwood, the author's mother. She falls in love with a Catholic priest, Hughie Hewitt, and has two children by him. While everything starts out great and they keep their relationship a secret, all hell breaks loose when they are found out. Sherwood thought about writing the book herself, but was frightened by the possible consequences. It's not until after her death that Anders decided it was time the story was told.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but for some reason it reads like a young adult novel; not in content, but in writing style. Maybe that's because the author, Tim Anders, usually writes children's books. However, I don't mean this as a criticism at all. The book is well written and very interesting.
The style and story reminded me of a light-hearted 1940s romantic comedy movie. It's loving, fun, and quite dramatic at times. Anders does a great job of portraying the love that Sherwood and Hewitt had for each other as well as the culture and lifestyles of the people in that era. It made me feel like I was there witnessing this first hand.
I don't know how much of this story is true. A few sections are a bit melodramatic and I suspect that parts of the story are embellished to fill in some gaps and make the story more appealing. I don't think it's meant to be a true representation of Sherwood's life and the author doesn't present it as such. Nevertheless, I believe that the major events in the story are in fact true and that's a tragedy for all of those involved.
I only have two small criticisms about the book. One is that the few graphic sexual references were stark and gratuitous against the rest of the story. I think the author could have portrayed the couple's attraction for each other in another way. The other is the caption accompanying the photos at the back of the book. It's just a bit too sappy for my liking. I did, however, love the photos (both of them are striking) and appreciated their inclusion.
I thought about writing a section on what this book might mean to Catholics, but I don't think I'm qualified to do that. I'll just say that: I was raised Catholic, but no longer attend mass; I don't believe the Catholic church is above reproach; I was not offended by the book.