“Stories aren’t fiction. Stories are fabric. They’re the white sheets we drape over our ghosts so we can see them.”
Thus begins Sarah Addison Allen’s latest release, the one waited for patiently by legions of loyal fans. From the first sentence on, every reader can rest assured– it was absolutely worth the wait.
I’ve never been able to pick a favorite Sarah Addison Allen book– they’re all so wonderful! But Other Birds may just be her best book yet, and my new favorite.
Zoey has just inherited her mother’s condo in the tourist town of Mallow Island, South Carolina. She escapes her unhappy childhood by moving there the summer before she begins college, intending to make this unknown place her true home, and perhaps finding some of her mother’s belongings and healing for herself along the way. She finds the magical Dellawisp tucked behind the main boulevard, a horseshoe shaped building with a garden full of strange turquoise birds and even quiet residents. Life becomes much less quiet for all the residents when the neighborhood busybody unexpectedly dies, ushering in all kinds of change. Charlotte keeps to herself, Mac is hiding something, and Lucy– well, no one sees Lucy. These neighbors may just have to confront mysterious circumstances, ghosts, and possibly discover that not all stories need to be told.
All of Allen’s titles sweep me up into the story so fully I’m reluctant to put them down, but none so much as Other Birds. The way these characters lives intersect, the secrets they keep and the stories they share, weave together in such a compelling way. But there’s more to it than just that– this story has such heart, made all the more heart-piercing with magical realism.
This cast of characters is intriguing, relatable, and intricately developed. Perhaps it is the little nuances, their histories, and their resilience that make them endearing and unforgettable, or perhaps it is the way they help each other grow. Regardless, the result is that whether the last chapter ended on a cliffhanger or not, I was equally enthused about each perspective shift and character.
As always, Allen’s settings are unique and lean towards the magical themselves. The storied history of Mallow Island made me wish it was a real place (I’m only half certain it isn’t– this world is so well crafted I can’t tell what is true and what is invention!). The island, the Dellawisp, and the individual condos are all so well developed that the imagery jumps off the page to form a mental film reel so real it feels as though you could reach out and touch it.
There is something inherently magical about Allen’s writing. The writing itself is gorgeous and engaging, made all the better by the equally engaging story. The integration of magical realism adds an air of whimsy to a story that certainly has its heavier moments, but also suspends the reader fully in the story.
Honestly, I’m a reader and a writer, and I’m having the hardest time pinpointing what exactly it is that makes this particular novel so engrossing and wonderful. I couldn’t put it down– I read it in just a few sittings, and I was thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it. Reading this book– it felt like more than reading, somehow. It felt like an experience.
Even though you may want to devour it, read it slow the first time. It’s worth it. Personally, I can’t wait to re-read it.
After all, the heart of every one of Allen’s stories is the promise of hope and magic in everyday life.
And as she says herself in Other Birds, “Not everything has to be real to be true.”
Thank you to Sarah Addison Allen, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for an advanced e-galley such that I could share my honest opinion.
Other Birds is out today! You can order it from Bookshop.org here. Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org. I will earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you click through and make a purchase.
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