Looking for love and being found by it


The Codger and the Sparrow 

Scott Semegran 

TCU Press  

March 22, 2024 

ISBN: 978-0875658681; 224 pages 

The one-hundred-and-seventy-mile distance between Austin and Houston seems too short to stage a traditional American road novel, one that is full of wanderings, discoveries, tensions, troubles, and new beginnings.  


Texas writer Scott Semegran's latest book, however, fills that modest travel gap in an entertainingly different way, with deeper and wider character development, several absorbing plot twists, and cool rides in a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda muscle car painted hot pink.  


In The Codger and the Sparrow, an oddball friendship develops between a sixty-five-year-old widower, Hank O'Sullivan, and a sixteen-year-old Puerto Rican youth, Luis Delgado, while both are picking up trash along a segment of an Austin highway. They each have been sentenced to perform forty hours of community service for misdemeanors—Hank for slugging someone in a bar; Luis for repeatedly trespassing on private property.  


The two characters are basically good, unremarkable people with issues in their lives that have left them troubled, dissatisfied, and searching for new connections. Many readers likely will identify with why they pin big hopes on a road trip to try to reconnect with relatives and classmates from their pasts. 


Hank had lost his wife and daughter several years earlier in a driving accident, while he was drunk at the wheel. Now he thinks he may be ready to find a new relationship, and he hopes it will be with the woman who was his prom date when they were teens in high school. As Semegran writes: "Even though it had been a long time since his wife's unfortunate accident, he always felt a wave of guilt whenever the thought of finding a new love crossed his mind. He still loved his wife and daughter very much, but his loneliness was beginning to wear on him, hollowing out his tough shell, making his heart feel brittle." 


Luis, meanwhile, has been raised by Roberto Sanchez, a stern, hard-working single parent that Luis has considered his real father. Roberto, Semegran writes, "rarely made a dinner that didn't come from a box, preferring the nonthinking method of something like Hamburger Helper. He was just too busy with work and paying bills to cook a more elaborate dinner. Luis often wondered if the dinner selection would be different if his mother lived with them, but he rarely mentioned his mother to his father. The subject of her always seemed too painful to broach." Luis decides he wants to leave his father and reconnect with his mother. He believes she will show him more love and attention and be less restrictive about keeping him close to home.  


When Hank and Luis realize they are both seeking new futures in Houston, they agree to team up and help each other in their respective quests. And it is good that they do. What they have imagined is not even close to what actually happens once they finally knock on some long-sought doors. 


Semegran's ninth book is heartening and thought-provoking. It doesn't leap over the top of reality or possibility, nor does it fall victim to Texas's many bigger-than-life cliches. Yes, Hank and Luis have skipped out on some community service, but nobody from the CIA, FBI, or Travis County is chasing them. They aren't disgraced cops. They haven't robbed any banks, stolen any cartel drugs, or found some secret documents. There is not even anything especially unusual about Hank's car, except that a few car collectors might like to own it. 


The Codger and the Sparrow simply tells an entertaining tale well worth telling. Love can be out there if we look for it and if we allow ourselves to be found by it. 

Scott Semegran is an award-winning writer of nine books. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife. They have four kids, two cats, and a dog. His novels The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island won Writer's Digest Book Awards for YA fiction and To Squeeze a Prairie Dog won the Benjamin Franklin Award gold medal for Humor. His latest book is The Codger and the Sparrow.