Other Birds is a wonderfully written story by Sarah Addison Allen. Her quirky, magical tales are always a delight to read.
When Zoey arrives on Mallow Island, South Carolina, she feels both like she’s come home and like she’s an outsider who doesn’t belong anywhere. Her mother emigrated from Cuba many years ago, and landed on Mallow Island, South Carolina. When she married, she and her husband lived in the South for a few years, until he lost his job and decided they would move back to where his family lived in the Midwest.
Zoey’s mother brought her back to Mallow Island a few times before she passed away, when Zoey was only 7. She remembers very little about her visits to Mallow Island as a young child, but now that she is 18 and headed to the College of Charleston, she is glad to have her mother’s apartment to live in during the summer and on school breaks. She doesn’t have a great relationship with her father or her stepmother, who was all too excited to turn Zoey’s room into a crafting space.
The apartment is the loft unit at The Dellawisp, a small complex of apartments hidden off a side street. The dellawisps (birds) fly everywhere, and seem to communicate with the manager, Frasier. The other apartments house a chef, an artist, two middle-aged sisters who don’t talk to each other, and a bevy of ghosts. When a tragedy occurs at The Dellawisp, the other residents slowly begin connecting with each other. It turns out Zoey is the breath of fresh air they all needed to move on and exorcise the ghosts in their lives, and they’re the family that Zoey has always needed to support and celebrate her.
I really adore the way Allen writes, and her take on magical realism. Her books feel both grounded in Southern culture and alive with magic and fantasy. Maybe that’s less of a contradiction than it should be, given that the South is a place where ancestors are kept alive through their descendants’ storytelling. Allen’s characters, too, feel both familiar and unique, like someone you’d run into at the corner drugstore and want to follow home because they’re just a little different and therefore fascinating to you.
If you love this book (and her other novels), I highly suggest you follow Allen on social media. Most Sundays, she shares short short stories and invites others to comment and continue the story. They are entertaining to read, and encourage us all to flex our creativity muscles.