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The Bird Sisters: A Novel [Paperback]

Rebecca Rasmussen

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Book Description

Nov. 22 2011
When a bird flies into a window in Spring Green, Wisconsin, sisters Milly and Twiss get a visit. Twiss listens to the birds' heartbeats, assessing what she can fix and what she can't, while Milly listens to the heartaches of the people who've brought them. These spinster sisters have spent their lives nursing people and birds back to health.
 
But back in the summer of 1947, Milly and Twiss knew nothing about trying to mend what had been accidentally broken. Milly was known as a great beauty with emerald eyes and Twiss was a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. That was the summer their golf pro father got into an accident that cost him both his swing and his charm, and their mother, the daughter of a wealthy jeweler, finally admitted their hardscrabble lives wouldn't change. It was the summer their priest, Father Rice, announced that God didn't exist and ran off to Mexico, and a boy named Asa finally caught Milly's eye. And, most unforgettably, it was the summer their cousin Bett came down from a town called Deadwater and changed the course of their lives forever.
 
Rebecca Rasmussen's masterfully written debut novel is full of hope and beauty, heartbreak and sacrifice, love and the power of sisterhood, and offers wonderful surprises at every turn.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (Nov. 22 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307717976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307717979
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 13.5 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 272 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #515,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"THE BIRD SISTERS is truly something to crow about. Rasmussen’s obvious intimacy with her characters...breathes such life into them, each voice is perfectly defined, whether her characters speak as teenager or septuagenarians."--St. Louis magazine

"THE BIRD SISTERS is in no way imitative, it has the sturdy literary bones of pastoral masterworks such as Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres and Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping." - St. Louis-Post Dispatch

"A magical debut, original and poignant, lovely and moving. THE BIRD SISTERS evokes the richly imaginative joys of childhood and the throat-aching betrayals and loyalties of being an adult. I absolutely loved THE BIRD SISTERS and will carry Milly and Twiss with me as if in a locket for a long, long time." -- Jenna Blum, bestselling author of Those Who Save Us

“What a book -- unique, beautifully written, vivid and heartbreaking. I loved it. With evocative and finely wrought prose, Rebecca Rasmussen has crafted a moving story that explores the fierce bonds, wounds, and tender complexities of the human heart. THE BIRD SISTERS is a magical debut.”—Beth Hoffman, bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

"THE BIRD SISTERS is that immensely satisfying combination of indelible characters and a suspenseful and cunningly revealed plot. In lovely evocative prose Rebecca Rasmussen conjures up her two sisters, Milly and Twiss, and their rural Wisconsin community during the summer that changed their lives. Full of wonderful surprises, this is a splendid debut that will stay with the reader long after the last page."–Margot Livesey

"Rebecca Rasmussen has written her graceful debut, THE BIRD SISTERS, with unflinching and transporting empathy. After a few short chapters of this vivid, lucid novel, you will forget you are reading words on a page; the book in your hands will become a portable window into the interior lives of two remarkable sisters."–Stefan Merrill Block, author of The Story of Forgetting

"In shining prose, Rebecca Rasmussen brings to life the world of Milly and Twiss —characters written with such grace and tenderness that I fell in love with them at once. THE BIRD SISTERS is a lush and moving story about discovery and disappointment, failing and forgiveness, and the enduring bond of family. It’s a beautiful novel."–Aryn Kyle, author of The God of Animals

“In THE BIRD SISTERS, Rebecca Rasmussen has created the ultimate literary heroines with Milly and Twiss. Heartbreakingly brave as they are fragile, the sisters endure despite the failings of love both familial and romantic, of promises not kept, of dreams deferred and the price one pays for keeping secrets. In prose that sings, Rasmussen has created a magical world where you will believe that birds – and perhaps even humans — no matter how broken — will soar under the capable ministrations of Milly and Twiss.”—Robin Antalek, author of The Summer We Fell Apart

"THE BIRD SISTERS tells its tale with prose as miraculous as the images it conveys, like a starling, on the verge of death, suddenly twitching and taking flight. The achingly human characters, so stubborn they keep unspoken all the words that could save them, are tied together by last chances and lost love. And yet Rebecca Rasmussen’s gorgeous debut is infused with a certain grace: there remains hope that damaged things, wild or tame, can still be nursed back together again." --Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone

“Rasmussen’s debut novel is full of grace and humanity. Her poetic prose creates an almost magical, wholly satisfying world. [T]his wistful but wise story is enchanting and timeless.”—Library Journal (Starred review)

"Rasmussen's debut novel begins like a typical coming-of-age story, but reveals itself to be a singular portrayal of familial sacrifice and loss…Achingly authentic and almost completely character driven, the story of the sisters depicts the endlessly binding ties of family."–Publisher’s Weekly

"A bittersweet, charmingly offbeat debut… [Rasmussen writes with] warmth and originality." – Kirkus Reviews




From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

REBECCA RASMUSSEN teaches creative writing and literature at Fontbonne University. Her stories have appeared in Triquarterly magazine and the Mid-American Review. She was a finalist in both Narrative magazine’s 30 Below Contest for writers under the age of thirty and in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Contest. She lives with her husband and daughter in St. Louis.  This is her first novel.
 
Visit her at TheBirdSisters.com.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  85 reviews
43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Debut Novel! April 18 2011
By Darlene - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Bird Sisters is Rebecca Rasmussen's debut novel and what a debut it is! I've been looking forward to reading Rebecca's novel for quite a while now and it was well worth the wait. I also have to mention the cover because I think it's unique and beautiful and really fits with the story. I would describe The Bird Sisters as a tall drink of ice tea on a really hot day - deeply satisfying. Rebecca's beautiful writing of this story of two sisters who remain faithful to each other throughout their lives will resonant in your soul long after you turn the final page.

The story opens with Milly and Twiss, two elderly sisters living alone in Spring Green, Wisonsin. They are known as the bird sisters because Twiss tends to injured birds while Milly tends to the people who bring them in by listening to their stories. Their lives are pretty sedate now with Twiss, if she's not tending to an injured bird, wandering their land and Milly wandering the house; both living in their memories of the past. The story itself weaves seamlessly between the past and the present giving us insights into how the sisters end up alone and together for all of their lives.

Milly has always had dreams of a family - she wanted a husband and children. She even had names picked out for them along with a boy she has set her sights on. Milly is a really sweet character, always trying to please people. She loves to bake for everyone as it is something that will make a person smile and be happy. She is also described as being very pretty; a girl who could have her pick of boys if she wanted. There was never a doubt that Milly would marry.

Then there was Twiss, a few years younger than Milly, who I have to say was my favorite character. She is full of spunk and sassiness as a young girl; a classic tom-boy. Twiss spends most of her days out on the golf course with her golf-pro father and she loves it. If she's not doing that then she's off looking for trouble somewhere else.

Then comes the summer of 1947 and everything changes for them. Milly and Twiss are teenagers. Their father has an accident that puts a distinct end to his golf career and he moves himself into the barn, refusing to live in the house anymore. Their parents are at odd ends and the girls try their hardest to bring them back together. Then cousin Bett comes to stay for the summer. She's different from anyone else the girls have known and ultimately she turns their lives upside down before the end of the summer arrives in ways that they never could have expected.

So you, as the reader, know how the story will end with the sisters as spinsters with only each other for company. It is the heart wrenching journey that the author takes you on to get to that point that will tug at your heart and have you fully invested in these woman's lives. As with all of our lives it is the events that take place and the decisions that we make that ultimately shape our lives and bring us to where we are. Rebecca weaves this story in such a captivating way that we are hanging onto every word as we learn the single most devastating event that changes the lives of these girls forever.

Rebecca Rasmussen artfully recreates life in a small town and that of the sisters living on a farm. The novel is full of quirky, unique characters and Milly and Twiss will no doubt find a way into anyone's heart and the way these two sisters give up everything for each other will forever touch you. The writing is absolutely beautiful and I found myself rereading several passages just to experience them again. The Bird Sisters goes onto my keeper shelf. I'm sure I will revisit this beautiful novel and Milly and Twiss again in the future. I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good, well written story that will allow you to escape for a while into a different time and place.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On Love and Family April 17 2011
By Christi Craig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"It was a warm spring morning in early May, the kind that led to afternoon picnics, plates of baked chicken and wax beans. The crocuses had given way to the tulips, which surrounded the chapel like a yellow collar." ~ from The Bird Sisters

When I read that passage, I fell in love with Rebecca Rasmussen's debut novel. Set in Spring Green, Wisconsin, The Bird Sisters opens with a visit from a stranger and unfolds into a recollection of the summer of 1947, when Milly and Twiss discovered truths about their priest, their parents, and their cousin Bett. What unfolds is a bittersweet story about Twiss and Milly, about their fractured family, their broken hearts, and their devotion.

By crafting such powerful images like the one in the quote above, Rasmussen grounds her main characters and her readers to a sacred place and time. Her story reminds us how that strong sense of place can carry us back and forth through our memories and anchor us to our lives.

Rasmussen's story flows seamlessly between the past and present, and her characters appear in vivid form. Her novel is simply wonderful.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely Piece of Literature April 14 2011
By Utah Mom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I used to know of two old sisters that lived together in their house until they were in their nineties and no longer able to take care of themselves. Their early lives fascinated me and for years I have wondered and imagined how they ended up together and alone. The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen reminds me of those two ancient sisters.

Milly and Twiss have been saving the injured birds in their hometown of Spring Green, Wisconsin for years. Neither sister has ever married. Never had children. Except for each other, they are alone. But they do have a story and through memories, their story is told in this novel.

Milly is beautiful and sweet. She lives to please others and to bake cookies for Asa, the boy she day dreams about. Twiss, just a few years younger than Milly, is untamed and uncultured. She prefers to talk to the turtles living in the pond or play golf with her father.

Their mother gave up her inheritance to marry for love. Their father loves golf but an accident has messed up his swing and he moves into the barn. The family continues day in and day out in a fragile disharmony until their eighteen year old cousin Bett comes to visit for the summer.

The ensuing drama will change their possible futures and the sisters will stay exactly the same. My heart ached at the love between the sisters and their willingness to give up their futures for each other. At the same time it is literally painful to read of the loss of their girlish dreams.

Rasmussen expertly and gracefully describes life in a small town. Her characters are eccentric but believable (especially if you have lived in a small town full of eccentric characters). Within the lovely setting and mixed with unique characters, there is a well developed and intriguing story too. Well written and engaging, I enjoyed this lovely piece of literature.
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I don't get it... May 8 2011
By Japan Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
My opinion of this book improved slightly as I got farther into it, but I still can't understand all of the rave reviews; it almost makes me wonder what's wrong with me. This despite the fact that this book has all the elements I usually love: character-driven rather than plot-driven, slow pace, setting as almost another character, period piece.

But the characters never really came alive to me in any unique way; they seemed mainly like stock characters. The "quirky" smalltown neighbors also seemed like "stock unique characters," almost as if the author had drawn out various elements that she thought would make a good pitch and then applied them, without really bringing them to complete life. If somebody had explained the parts of this book to me, I would have been interested, so it puzzles me that I really couldn't warm to it. Oh, and the "big plot point" that is supposed to have changed everybody's life that summer? I couldn't buy it. Sorry, I just couldn't. Perhaps if the characters had been developed more, I would have.

The biggest issue for me was how TAME this book was. It is a debut, so this may explain it, but I thought everything was played very safe, very careful, without new elements or any sort of daring. No challenges here. How many books have we read about life-altering teenage summers with "one big event" that changes lives? the visitor from outside the family who comes in and upsets lives? Maybe it's just my mood.

I'm sure the author will continue to grow and her next work is likely to be something to look forward to. But this one really didn't do it for me.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll Be Glad You Read this One! April 12 2011
By My2Cents - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Whenever a bird flies into a window in Spring Green, Wisconsin, sisters Milly and Twiss get a visit. Twiss listens to the birds' heartbeats, assessing what she can fix and what she can't, while Milly listens to the heartaches of the people who've brought them. The two sisters have spent their lives nursing people and birds back to health.".

Known to most, in the small town of Spring Green, Wisconsin, as "The Bird Sisters", life for these spinster sisters, destined them to always be together. As young girls, Milly, was a beautiful girl, who was in love with Asa; she dreamed of marriage and children. Twiss, was somewhat of a fun-loving, wild spirit who enjoyed her freedom. Life, as we know, does not always turn out as we planned, and for Milly and Twiss, the summer of 1947, when the sisters were teenagers, was the turning point in their lives that carved out what would be their future--- growing old together in their childhood home.

The story moves from present time back to that summer of 1947, and it is told in alternating chapters. The reader gets a glimpse into the sister's parents troubled marriage, their mother's frustrations and regrets, their father's downward fall from his job as a respected golf pro, and also what transpired the summer older cousin Bette came to visit. Bit by bit the reader understands the events that determined the course of their adult lives.

From the very beginning I was anxious to find out what happened that was so horrible to cause the lives of Milly and Twiss to turn out the way they did. The sister characters are so finely honed, so much so that I felt emotionally invested in them. Although their lives made me sad, I admired how devoted they were to one another. There is so much more that I could say, however, I want to be careful not to say too much. The Bird Sisters was a terrific debut novel. It's written in a style that worked well for me: a character driven novel with memorable but flawed characters, a story that hooks you early on and keeps you turning the pages, and just one of those stories that will keep me talking about this book for a long while.

In some ways this book made me think of (2) other books I read and loved as well over the last several years: Tomato Girl and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt: A Novel. As with The Bird Sisters, these books left a lasting impression, each were debut novels, and each in their own way moved me deeply. All three are MUST READS for your summer reading list. Highly recommended!

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