Review: Other Birds
Updated: Oct 24
Other Birds, by Sarah Addison Allen (2022)
This book is a delight. It's somehow utterly fanciful and has its feet firmly planted in reality. It sports a motley crew of quirky castaways, all thrown together at The Dellawisp condos, named for the flock of small, turquoise dellawisp birds (fictional, sadly!) that inhabit the courtyard. The hotel is located on the (also fictional) Mallow Island, off the coast of South Carolina - so named because it used to be known for its production of marshmallows.
The cast of characters includes:
Frasier - caretaker/manager, and dellawisp whisperer (they like to sit on his head)
18-year old Zoey - a new arrival to the island, having inherited her late mother's condo
Charlotte - a henna artist who is on the run from an unsettling past
Mac - a prize-wining chef who mostly keeps to himself
Lizbeth - a paranoid hoarder who terrorizes all the other residents
Her shut-in sister Lucy, who never comes out of her condo
Oliver - Lizbeth's son, who left for California while trying to outrun his mother's mental illness (and no longer speaks to his mother or aunt)
And finally, the illusive Roscoe Avanger - author of the book that made Mallow Island famous, but now a recluse who hasn't written a thing since
And if all of that wasn't wacky enough as-is, we can add to it that Zoey has a best friend who is an invisible bird named Pigeon, Mac wakes up every morning having been dusted in corn flour by the ghost of his chosen-mother, and Frasier converses daily with the other ghosts that wander about The Dellawisp.
The characters are well-written and likable (the ones you're meant to like, anyway!), and the narration switches between them seamlessly (including some chapters narrated by the various ghost characters). Every one of them has secrets, either about their past or their present lives, and every one of them is living a shadow of the lives they could and want to have. With the addition of upbeat, friendly Zoey, and the passing of Debbie-Downer Lizbeth, the Dellawisp residents begin to evolve. They form friendships and finally start to come out of hiding from their respective condo units, to grow, and to share their lives with someone other than a ghost, a cat, a bird, or the few small objects that can fit on the back of a bike. Even the crabby folks get a believable redemption arc - or if not redemption, then at least acceptance.
I love that Other Birds is, in many ways, a straight-forward book about a diverse group of people finding camaraderie in an isolated hotel, that also weaves the fantastical into the narrative like it's a natural part of life on the island.
UP NEXT: Now Is Not the Time to Panic, by Kevin Wilson