Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: When Sparrows Fall by Meg Moseley



Meg Moseley's When Sparrows Fall is one of my favorite books of all time. Moseley's prose is gorgeous and evocative (the landscape is a character in itself), and there are no stereotypes here, no caricatures; the characters are complex and interesting. The main ones are Miranda, widow, mother of 6, struggling to escape from her oppressive, legalistic, cult-like church; and Jack, divorced college professor, a man of both faith and reason, who is equal parts angry and sad to see the life in which Miranda and her children are trapped. Both characters are intelligent, capable of great kindess and love, and like most people, struggling with their own kinds of damage.

This book isn't just exceptionally well-written. (I'm normally not a fan of romance, but the one in this book was so well-done that I didn't mind it at all.) This book is important. It addresses a world that needs to be better known: the world of Quiverfull fundamentalist homeschooling separatists. Now, Moseley is not implying that all homeschoolers are like this. Obviously not; she herself homeschooled her 3 children. But she is shining a light on a homeschooling subculture that exists, and is a prison to everyone within it. I know. I have a number of friends who grew up in it. Some are still struggling years later.

The Quiverfull movement at its most extreme gives all women, regardless of temperament or gifting or ability, exactly one role in life: to have as many babies as possible, homeschool them all, cook and clean and practice extreme submission. Men are the ultimate, unquestionable authority. (Which many of them feel trapped into, as well--imagine being a sensitive, indecisive man in a system like this!) Children are harshly forced into unqualified, unquestioning obedience, rather than being taught how to think for themselves and make good choices. Performance and conformity are valued far above grace and courage.

Moseley does a tremendous job of writing a vivid story set against the backdrop of that world, without infodumps and without reducing the characters to bland, powerless stereotypes. Miranda and her children are all so believable that I felt like I knew them, by the end; and despite being trapped in such a stifling world, none of them are without agency. Miranda in particular is done with being controlled; when Jack tries to give her orders, though they come from the opposite of the Quiverfull mentality, she lets him know that her life will no longer be run by men. She will be making her own decisions. She is discovering grace and freedom, the way we all must: not at anyone else's behest, but between herself and God.

I will be leaping to buy any further books by this author.

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