Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Language of Birds

The Language of Birds by Anita Barrows
5/17/22; 320 pages
She Writes Press

The Language of Birds by Anita Barrows is a highly recommended introspective and melancholy coming-of-age drama.

As children Gracie and her younger sister Jannie were taken by their mother on a pointless trip to Europe, where they finally went Germany to stay with their Oma. After eight months the traumatic trip ended in their mother's suicide. Gracie did make a best friend during this time, Martin, a boy her age who also spoke English and German. Then at 12 1/2 and 5. Gracie and Jannie are back in Berkeley with their father. Their father tirelessly devotes himself to getting help and support for Jannie, who is autistic and very passionate about birds, but leaves Gracie to make her own way.

Gracie is a serious, sensitive girl who doesn't reveal the truth about her mother's suicide or Jannie autism. She withdraws from any social contact and purposefully isolates herself. Her only connection is writing letters to Martin and meeting a fellow disengaged student, Gina, who also wants to be a writer. The two girls open up to each other when Gracie tells Gina the truth about her family. Gina has many of her own problems and only shares a few with Gracie.

The well-written novel is narrated by Gracie and chapters alternate between 2002, when Gracie is 16 and Jannie is 8, and 2017 when they are young adults. The themes covered in The Language of Birds are all serious and weighty. These include Gracie's chosen method to cope with the mental illness and suicide of her mother, her sister's autism, and a death, by closing herself off to others, and Gina's story, which is even rougher. These topics are handled with sympathy, understanding and care by Barrows, but be forewarned that the tone of the novel is very somber, heartbreaking, and thoughtful. There is a resolution, but the tone remains rather somber throughout.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of She Writes Press via Edelweiss.

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