The Sparrow is a huge improvement over its predecessor The First. Whereas The First serves as an introduction to a world where the dead suddenly return alive, The Sparrow delves into the moral issues that arise from it. Are the Returned human? Are they still the people they were when they died? How is this possible: Is it magic or can science explain it? And do we sacrifice our humanity in seeking the answers to these questions?
Married couple Heather and Matt face these questions when they discover Returned little girl Tatiana. Heather embraces the child, accepting and caring for her while husband Matt treats the Returnee as a thing to be exploited:
"These things aren't people. They're something else. And if there's a way for us to capitalize on this, then I'm all for that."
Heather is appalled at his reaction but replies with compassion, hoping to change his mind:
"If I could see my mother again... If my mother somehow shows up in all of this, if I get a call that she's been found in some far-off part of the world, I'd pray to God that the person who finds her would take care of her, that they would get her back to me, that they would have the decency to let me decide whether or not she was real, whether or not I could love her again."
Fear and uncertainty in the face of this bizarre phenomenon is to be expected, but the actions taken driven by these feelings have shown to be, in some cases, unaccountably violent and homicidal. In an attempt to understand Matt's rejection of Tatiana, Heather believes that since he's never experienced loss, he's unable to reconcile what the Returned can mean to those left behind in their grief:
'Heather was certain that Matt's problem with Tatiana stemmed from the fact that he had never lost anyone. Both of his parents were still alive. His brothers and sisters, even his grandparents, were all still alive. He had never known the loneliness of waking in the middle of the night from a dream of spending time with a mother who had been dead nearly a decade.'
The object of contention, Tatiana, is shown to be a normal human child and nothing indicates that she is otherwise. She possesses memories of her former life with loving parents, who took it in turns to make up bedtime stories to entertain her. Unfortunately her short life, and that of her mother's, was cut short when violence came to her home in what I assumed to be the Rwandan genocide in 1994, leaving her father bereft and alone (who was away at the time, helping those in need).
I'm definitely looking forward to the next installments of this series.