Contemporary, Fiction

Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen

I was so excited to be able to read a new Sarah Addison Allen book! I’ve sung the praises of her work for a decade now and was delighted to find her trademark magical realism again in Other Birds.

Synopsis

From the publisher marketing:
Down a narrow alley in the small coastal town of Mallow Island, South Carolina, lies a stunning cobblestone building comprised of five apartments. It’s called The Dellawisp and it is named after the tiny turquoise birds who, alongside its human tenants, inhabit an air of magical secrecy.

When Zoey Hennessey comes to claim her deceased mother’s apartment at The Dellawisp, she meets her quirky, enigmatic neighbors including a girl on the run, a grieving chef whose comfort food does not comfort him, two estranged middle-aged sisters, and three ghosts. Each with their own story. Each with their own longings. Each whose ending isn’t yet written.

When one of her new neighbors dies under odd circumstances the night Zoey arrives, she is thrust into the mystery of The Dellawisp, which involves missing pages from a legendary writer whose work might be hidden there. She soon discovers that many unfinished stories permeate the place, and the people around her are in as much need of healing from wrongs of the past as she is. To find their way they have to learn how to trust each other, confront their deepest fears, and let go of what haunts them.

Delightful and atmospheric, Other Birds is filled with magical realism and moments of pure love that won’t let you go. Sarah Addison Allen shows us that between the real and the imaginary, there are stories that take flight in the most extraordinary ways.

There are birds, and then there are other birds. Maybe they don’t sing. Maybe they don’t fly. Maybe they don’t fit in. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be an other bird rather than just the same old thing.

Review

I read my first, and admittedly only, Sarah Addison Allen book back in 2011, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, and I absolutely loved it. I never went back to read her previous books, but I always kept an eye out for her subsequent books, looking for one that would draw me in as much as the first. Other Birds is a very welcome new story.

A magnificently spun story of a young girl following in her mother’s footsteps to a small island off South Carolina, it was an absolute joy to escape into. I’m always a sucker for a book by a fellow Sarah (especially if their name has an H) and this particular Sarah has a remarkable gift of telling a story that is both heart wrenching and heartwarming. One minute you’re crying over a character’s backstory, the next you’re delightfully cheering them on as they learn more about themselves and overcome their troubles. 

I had a hard time really getting into Other Birds when it was first sent to me last October as a manuscript – I had just lost my uncle (see review of The Storyteller for the full story) and Other Birds deals with grief in a major way. Every character has lost someone either near and dear to them, or because they have distanced themselves by choice. When one considers that Sarah lost numerous family members, as I did, between her last book in 2015 and this one, it’s not a surprise that the resulting book would handle grief in a major way.

But sometimes I need space from my own feelings and I was happy to return to Other Birds when I was in a better headspace and I’m so very glad I did. I love every character, even the difficult ghosts. Other Birds is in a sense a ghost story, but it’s far from horrifying as such stories are often labeled. We have a character who can see and interact with the ghosts, a ghost manifesting as a bird, and one slowly guiding her adoptive grandson through her love of cooking. Our neighbors in the story, the ones left behind by the ghosts, are slowly finding their own closure through their relationships with each other.

It’s heartwarming, it’s loving, a Sarah Addison Allen book always feels like a tight warm hug from your grandmother. And as I miss mine dearly, I’ll take the next best thing I can get, Other Birds.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Where to Buy
In the USA, I recommend purchasing through BookShop or your local independent, in the UK, and many other parts of the world, I recommend Blackwell’s, and if neither of those cover where you live, I recommend checking out your local booksellers! Independent bookstores are vital parts of every local community and I wholly endorse supporting your local stores versus Amazon.

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