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.