What does it mean for a story’s setting to really act as an additional character? It can’t just be a well-defined place where players act out their roles. Rather, it must feel like an extra layer where secrets might be kept—and possibly revealed. An apartment building on Mallow Island, South Carolina, beautifully illustrates this principle in Sarah Addison Allen’s sixth novel, Other Birds.
Zoey never felt at home with her father and stepmother in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so after turning 18, she moves to the island to live in the apartment left by her late mother. Zoey finds herself at the Dellawisp, a quirky old building that hosts a flock of nosy, noisy birds for which it is named. So, too, has it become a home for a number of interesting people. From Zoey’s artist neighbor, Charlotte, to the property manager, Frasier, each tenant of the Dellawisp is haunted by ghosts—of who they were, whom they love, pasts they don’t understand or want to flee. In time, each resident seeks to be understood, to build connections with one another and to understand how their lives are intertwined.
Magical elements are hewn into the marrow of Other Birds. Ghosts and birds—imagined or real, but all mysterious—guide the meandering cast, allowing opportunities for joyful circumstances. The fictional dellawisps—curious, loud and loitering—shape both the setting and how the characters interact within it. Zoey even has a bird named Pigeon that only she can see. Pigeon prods and cajoles Zoey, helping her grow.
If you’re looking for a bit of mystery, whimsical characters and a keen sense of place, Other Birds offers all these delights and more. Allen immerses readers in this island world, as well as in the process of self-discovery, the experiences of being haunted and the gift of surrendering to what we can and cannot control.