THE BIRD SISTERS by Rebecca Rasmussen

Book Quote:

“Milly knew what other people thought: that they were just the weird old sisters who rescued birds, just like the crossing guard was the man with no teeth and the house on Oak Street was haunted and the river bottom was home to people who were missing their limbs and their eyes. That was the way with small towns, and there was something comforting about that.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (APR 13, 2011)

Milly and Twiss are known throughout Spring Green, Wisconsin as “the bird sisters” – two elderly spinsters who minister to broken birds and make them whole again. And, in many ways, the birds are a metaphor for who they are. Early on, Milly reflects, “The smartest birds built their nests high up in the trees. Some birds, namely the wood pigeon, the clumsiest architect of all, began building their nests but never finished them.”

The sisters would fall into that latter grouping. At one point in their lives, they were eager to take wing until the summer of 1947 changed everything. Since the story is told as a flashback, we, the readers, are charged with the task of finding out how – and why.

It was, indeed, a pivotal summer. Their long-time trusted priest, Father Rice, pronounces that God doesn’t exist and leaves an astounded congregation for Mexico. Their father, a golf-pro, who loves the lifestyle more than he loves their mother, is in a car accident while coming home from buying ice-cream sundaes; his game, both literally and metaphorically) is forever altered. Milly develops her first real crush with a boy named Asa.

But perhaps most important of all, their older cousin Bett arrives for an extended stay from her small town. Rasmussen writes, “While other girls planned their future weddings down to the kinds of cakes they thought they might like to serve, Bett had Twiss running around without her underwear on, hanging from trees in the moonlight invoking spirits who took joy in menacing young girls. She had Milly giving up her secrets only so she could make fun of them.”

As dad retreats to his barn and shuts the door to the marriage and Bett becomes an unlikely rival, we know that things cannot end well, although the chain of events is only gradually revealed. We learn, for example, that these sisters realized during that summer that they no longer possessed the power to change the future; they take an ordinary wounded starling back to their farmhouse, hoping it would recover from its injuries and take flight for them.

But why? That’s part of the journey of discovery awaiting the reader. In heartbreaking detail, Ms. Rasmussen describes the loss of innocence and the tough decisions and sacrifices that will have far-reaching effects. As with many important moments in life, trades have to be made and none of it is easy.

And through it all, the setting becomes a “character” in its own right. Ms. Rasmussen expertly recreates the life of a small farming town where townspeople gather and from time to time, dreams are shattered. Using descriptions of a town fair, home-baked pies sitting on checkered tables, and a goat named Hoo-Hoo, Spring Green becomes a little touch of Eden before the fall.

Achingly authentic, filled with the loss of girlish dreams and the embracing of what is left, Rebecca Rasmussen weaves a portrait of two sisters who realize that for humans as well as birds, “You couldn’t fiddle with even the tiniest bones without repercussions in the larger ones.” The Bird Sisters is particularly recommended for female audiences who enjoy talented debut authors such as Beth Hoffman, Randy Susan Meyers, Eleanor Brown, and Ellen Meeropol.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 40 readers
PUBLISHER: Crown (April 12, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Rebecca Rasmussen
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

The Sister by Poppy Adams


April 13, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Coming-of-Age, Contemporary, US Midwest

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