Book Review: The Bird Sisters

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  Somewhere between youth and old age, it occurred to Twiss that loving someone and forgiving them were two very different things.” (p. 262)

The Bird Sisters….oh, sigh….what more can I say here? I absolutely loved this story. I so wish it wasn’t over and I was still reading about Twiss and Milly. I miss Twiss and Milly.

As you may recall from my earlier post, I originally started this story in the audio format. I wasn’t enjoying the narration at all and hurried to grab the hardcopy version instead. I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am to have ditched the audiobook and switched formats. So, so very happy. When I was reading, I saw all that would have been missed had I remained with the audio, and I am certain my reaction and feelings for this book would have been far less than the 5-stars I’m giving it now.

The Bird Sisters is a lovely gem of a novel about the life-long bond between two sisters and the consequences they faced arising from one summer in 1947.

When the novel opens, Twiss and Milly are in their old age, two spinster sisters known as the “bird sisters” to the locals. Never married, they live in the same home they grew up in and tend to injured birds and, each other. There are a few hints at regret here in the beginning, and about love that seems to have passed them by, notably for Milly.

The story moves back in time to the summer of 1947, and then throughout, will briefly bring us back again to the current day in the life of Milly and Twiss.  The longer we stay in 1947 however, the more is revealed as to the how and why the two sisters are spinsters and have remained together, yet alone, for all these years.

We first learn of their childhood and the great differences between the two sisters: Twiss is a head strong, rough and tumble girl with a serious hate-hate relationship with her mother. Her mother has nothing but sharp and mean words for Twiss, and the same sharpness and words are used by Twiss against her mother;

“Have you ever skated on ice that was too thin?” her father said. “I only skate on that kind of ice,” Twiss said.” (p. 263)

Milly however, well, she is the adored one. She is the one born with beauty and seems to be treated with fragility. Nice isn’t even the word that can begin to cover the “niceness” that is Milly. She never has a bad word to say about anyone or anything.

Milly’s dream has long been to be married and raise children in Spring Green, Wisconsin. She has pages and pages of drawings of what her life will be like, and how her children will look, even down to the names she plans on giving them. This summer is significant as it marks the time where Milly begins to have feelings for the boy named Asa.

Twiss however has no intention ever of marrying. She has always said she will be happiest pitching a tent and living in the backyard of Milly’s house. She cannot understand the nonsense that is involved with love and marriage.

We also learn of the girl’s parents: Milly and Twiss’ father Joe is trying to live a dream life as a pro golfer, but an accident costs him his swing. He’s a touch self-absorbed and selfish, you will find that along the way. Along the way he also loses the respect and love of his wife, for the realization that their hardscrabble life isn’t about to improve any time soon. Maisie is the daughter of a wealthy jeweler and you come to the understanding that she gave up that life when she married Joe. Around this time, Joe begins to take up longer residences in the barn. The girls rarely see him, and now they’ve taken to passing notes between their mother and father, as this is the only way the two will communicate with each other.

The summer of 1947 is also the time when the girl’s cousin, Bett comes to stay.

Twiss adores Bett. She follows her everywhere. Bett is brash, bold and outspoken. She is a force to reckon with, and forces the girls to live outside the box. For Milly this is tougher than it is for Twiss. As the story unfolds, you come to understand all the ways in which Bett ultimately will alter Twiss and Milly’s family and their future.

How this unfolds is achieved through truly wonderful and heartbreaking storytelling. You cannot tear yourself away from it and I will honestly say to you I needed tissues. I worked to fight back the tears, I put the book down and walked away so that I wouldn’t completely fall apart on myself and all over the book. And yet, I still didn’t want my time to end with Milly and Twiss.

When you reach the end, the story begins to be told more from Twiss’ perspective and she heartbreakingly tells us of her devoted and unconditional love for her sister Milly:

“She’d’ grow up with Milly and grow old with her, and then one day, if time had any kindness, she’d die with her. Leaving Milly alone would’ve been like leaving an injured bird in the middle of a road.” (p. 265)  (oh my word! I think I just started crying again!)

“She was the only one who scooped her up when she tumbled to the ground all those years ago, and she was the only one who saw Twiss fly to the moon. “I’ll be right in,” Twiss called back, and thought, We don’t need anyone but us.” (p. 269)

Oh my word, I fought those tears at the end. Such a wonderful, wonderful story. The perfect read that came along as just the right time. I’m sure I haven’t even really described it well enough – I probably can’t see through the tears! Just know that I adored this story. 5 stars. Rasmussen has written a lovely, lovely gem for her debut novel! (But read it, don’t listen to it! You will lose the ability to re-read, sit and savour so many of the passages in it.) This story is as beautiful as the cover of the book! Here is a cover that signifies the beauty inside and one that can be appreciated.

Literary Hoarders Penny rev