Will Sparrow’s Road by Karen Cushman Book Review

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Will Sparrow’s Road by Karen Cushman Book ReviewWill Sparrow's Road by Karen Cushman
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on November 6th 2012
Genres: Young Adult, Historical, Europe, Action & Adventure, General, Performing Arts, Circus, Social Issues, Runaways
Pages: 224
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

In his thirteenth year, Will Sparrow, liar and thief, becomes a runaway. On the road, he encounters a series of con artists—a pickpocket, a tooth puller, a pig trainer, a conjurer—and learns that others are more adept than he at lying and thieving. Then he reluctantly joins a traveling troupe of "oddities," including a dwarf and a cat-faced girl, holding himself apart from the "monsters" and resolving to be on guard against further deceptions. At last Will is forced to understand that appearances are misleading and that  he has been his own worst deceiver. The rowdy world of market fairs in Elizabethan England is the colorful backdrop for Newbery medalist Cushman's new comic masterpiece.    This ebook includes a sample chapter of THE MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE.

When I think of children’s historical fiction, one of the first names that comes to mind is Karen Cushman, whether it’s for Catherine Called Birdy or The Midwife’s Apprentice, her name makes me think of journeys to the past. However, I’m not entirely sure if I have read her books before, you know my childhood was kind of a haze. When I came across Will Sparrow’s Road on Vine, it had a few qualities that attracted me — Elizabethan England setting, intrepid young boy, and an assortment of misfits who come together so of course I picked it as a book to review. For the most part, I was satisfied with Will Sparrow’s Road with a few things that prevented me from loving it.

Will Sparrow has had a hard life. Sold at a young age by his father for a pint of ale, Will works at an inn but is not fed well so he must resort to stealing food. One day he steals a pie from the innkeeper which results in the innkeeper deciding to sell Will to the chimney-sweeps. He takes issue with this, and so goes on the run. Will Sparrow sees himself as a thief and a liar with no cares for anyone but himself. By happenstance, he ends up traveling with a troupe of oddities including an intelligent pig, a dwarf and a cat-girl. He does not realize the leader of the troupe is not exactly a kind and caring person. What drives Will Sparrow’s Road by Karen Cushman is the hope that Will overcomes his trust issues and lets others care about him.

The character of Will Sparrow was quite realistic for a 12 year old boy who has been kicked around. Cushman does a decent job showing how Will’s backstory affects his attitude towards others. He is not wise beyond his years like plenty of other middle grade main characters. Instead, Will Sparrow is given the freedom to make mistakes and bad decisions and then grow from them. I thought that for Cushman’s first main character that happened to be male, she did well.

Cushman’s writing style isn’t very hard to follow. She uses some vocabulary words that are fitting with the time period that Will Sparrow’s Road is set in which enhances the story and really provides a sense of place and time. I liked the setting of the Elizabethan market fairs, because it is one that I have not encountered very much in my reading. I did find the pace to be a bit slow and I was not all that compelled to pick up Will Sparrow’s Road in my free time, as I didn’t entirely connect with will. However, I think this book has an audience.

Perhaps the best thing about Will Sparrow’s Road by Karen Cushman is the lesson it ultimately teaches — not to judge others by their appearance. Cushman wonderfully shows how Will’s snap judgments about others are wrong. It’s a lovely lesson to learn and isn’t exactly rammed down the throat of the reader. I’d recommend this book to 8-12 year old children with an interest in historical fiction as well as children with an interest in animals.

Disclosure: Received for review via Amazon Vine

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I’ve been wondering about this one–sounds like one I should try on my boys (and me!)

  2. I’m so glad you reviewed this one, April! I did read Karen Cushman as a child, and I remember really liking The Midwife’s Apprentice especially, so I was excited that she had a new one coming out. But it’s one of those things where I wasn’t sure how well she’d hold up for me as an adult reader. Your qualms actually have me more curious–maybe I wouldn’t enjoy this one as much now as I would have as a kid. That makes me kind of want to pick it up and see. =)

    • Oh, I want to read The Midwife’s Apprentice and Catherine, Called Birdy someday. I’ve heard from other reviewers that this one doesn’t quite hold up to her other books.

      I feel like that happens a lot, books that were great as a kid don’t exactly hold up to adult readings.

  3. I really need to try Cushman sometime. Thanks for this thorough review, April–the Elizabethan market fair setting sounds great!