Book Reviews, YA Book Club for Writers

Book Club Review: The Absence of Sparrows by Kurt Kirchmeier

Stranger Things meets The Stand in this haunting coming-of-age novel about a plague that brings the world to a halt — and the boy who believes that his town’s missing sparrows can save his family.

In the small town of Griever’s Mill, eleven-year-old Ben Cameron is expecting to finish off his summer of relaxing and bird-watching without a hitch. But everything goes wrong when dark clouds roll in.

Old Man Crandall is the first to change — human one minute and a glass statue the next. Soon it’s happening across the world. Dark clouds fill the sky and, at random, people are turned into frozen versions of themselves. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no one knows how to stop it.

With his mom on the verge of a breakdown, and his brother intent on following the dubious plans put forth by a nameless voice on the radio, Ben must hold out hope that his town’s missing sparrows will return with everyone’s souls before the glass plague takes them away forever.

Our thoughts about this book:

Unfortunately, our thoughts on this book were not good. We had trouble finding positive things to say. Honestly, I’m struggling to find a way to be nice about this. And maybe, on a personal level, I’m so sick of pandemic-life, I need to do a little venting. So… tighten up your seat belt, this will be a rough ride.

Most of our discussion centered around the inappropriateness of several scenes considering the audience it’s intended for. On a personal note, I’m appalled that I allowed my 10-year-old to read it before me and I don’t even believe in censoring books for kids! There were several scenes involving drinking and one scene where the 11-year-old main character gets drunk (due to following the adults’ example of drinking when stressed) and then wakes up in a puddle of his own vomit. We had an issue with that in a middle grade book.

Cornered pages of inappropriate messages, mostly sexism.

Sexism ran rampant through the story. This lead to discussion of the time period of when this story may have taken place. It was not clearly laid out but we suspect it took place in the 50’s or 60’s where views on the roles of men and women were more traditional. But we had to piece that possibility together by examining the fact that there was no mention of cell phones or computers and that the boys delivered papers in a wagon and used a battery operated radio to acquire some cryptic information. I started folding corners of my book (I know, some of you just cringed!) every time I found a sexist view of Mom serving the men of the house, or girls who have “grown up” and it was clearly intended that meant “developed.” Dad’s brother dies and it is stated in clear bold print that Dad crying over his brother’s death is a sign of “weakness” and how disappointed his son is to see this display from his father and how it damaged his view of his “strong” father. We were so disgusted, most of us didn’t even want to finish the book. Going with the argument that the story takes place in a time when those were the views, I think would only be somewhat acceptable if the story were actually written during that time, where the author could hide behind “not knowing any better,” but to be authored in 2019 with views like this directed at a young impressionable audience, actually made us angry. A retired teacher in our group said she didn’t know how she’d have been able explain or re-frame so many scenes in the book in a classroom setting.

Towards the end of the book, religion becomes a main focus and the story turns to a theme of good vs evil and even states “the devil vs God” and the views here were also very old school and inappropriate for young audiences.

We questioned how a publisher as big as Little Brown published this book? How did this get through editing? Our only conclusion was maybe the author knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone, because… well… I have read some books I didn’t like, but this is the worst.

The writing was also amateur, you can tell this is a first-time author, but a first-time author who’s not ready to be published. Many scenes were unnecessary and could have been eliminated for they didn’t move the story forward, there was a scene that eluded to cruelty to animals, pages and pages of descriptions of characters that never appeared again in the story, and even more pages that read like a birding textbook. This book is more tell and little show. And the ending was just a laundry list wrap up of under-developed characters with no growth arcs.

And that fact that they got ARC readers blurb that this was “Stephen King-level horror”…umm… GAG! No. Just no. (And on a middle grade book!)

Was anything good in this novel? Well, the title font on the cover is cool. And overall the story concept was good, but it had so much more potential.

Unless your looking for an example of what not to write, we do not recommend this book.


This is an unsolicited review. I purchased my copy from

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (May 5 2020)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316450904

3 thoughts on “Book Club Review: The Absence of Sparrows by Kurt Kirchmeier”

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