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The Bird Sisters: A Novel Paperback – November 22, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (November 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307717976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307717979
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #645,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Beth Hoffman Interviews Rebecca Rasmussen

Beth Hoffman, author of the New York Times bestseller Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, talks about her experience of reading The Bird Sisters and interviews Rebecca Rasmussen.

Beth Hoffman: Every now and then a book falls into my hands that moves me to the point where I stop everything I’m doing and devour the pages. The voice is always the first hook, then the characters and prose, and finally the story. To find such a book is exciting, and when I opened The Bird Sisters and began to read, I knew I was in for a wonderful experience. Rendered with a delicate but assured hand, this is a poignant and bittersweet tale that explores the joys and wounds of familial love and the shocking pain of betrayal. Rebecca Rasmussen has crafted a unique, beautiful debut novel, and I’m delighted to chat with her about The Bird Sisters.

Rebecca, the sense of place in your novel is lovely and fully actualized. What was the reason you chose the rural setting of Spring Green, Wisconsin?

Rebecca Rasmussen: I am deeply attached to Spring Green, Wisconsin, which is where my father has lived since I was a girl. My brother and I would go back and forth between his house and my mother’s, which was located in a small suburb of Chicago. For us, Wisconsin was magical. There we were able to swim in the river, cover ourselves in mud, and tromp through the woods. There we played with barn cats and snakes, lightning bugs and katydids. I’ve always preferred rural landscapes to urban ones. Wild over tame. It’s like the old bumper stickers from the ’80s used to say: ESCAPE TO WISCONSIN.

Hoffman: Milly and Twiss are such unique, singular characters, have you known anyone like them?
Rasmussen: My older brother and I are a lot like them. My brother is a great adventurer like Twiss, and I am more cautious like Milly. When we were kids, my brother was the one who’d set off on all-day adventures in the woods, and I would straggle along behind him hoping not to get caught up in the tangle of pricker bushes behind our house. As we’ve grown older, we’ve grown a bit more moderate. He can sit still for a whole hour now, and I don’t jump on his back when I sense danger nearby. We love each other the way Milly and Twiss do. I can’t bear for him to be sad, and he can’t bear it for me.

Hoffman: I took away from your story a certain symbolism of the damaged birds. What do they represent to you?
Rasmussen: The novel began for me with lines I happened upon in an Emily Dickinson poem: “These are the days when Birds come back/A very few--a Bird or two--/To take a backward look.” I have always loved birds on a literal and metaphorical level, and like most children I was deeply fascinated with their ability to come and to go whenever they pleased. In the novel, the older Milly and Twiss have spent their lives nursing birds back to health, mostly because an ordinary starling struck their car at a fateful moment when they were young. On that day, the sisters no longer possessed the power to change their futures and so they took this little bird back to their leaning farmhouse, hoping it would recover from its injuries and take flight for them.

Hoffman: If you had to pick only one scene as your favorite, what would it be, and why?
Rasmussen: One of the most wonderful things about small farming towns to me is when the townspeople gather together to celebrate something: a marriage, a graduation, or even the end of the summer in some places. Town fairs are especially magical to me. I love to think about spun sugar, apples in barrels, and pies sitting on checkered tablecloths. Put a town fair in a historical setting; add a little bit of quack medicine in the form of bathtub elixirs, a propeller plane, and a goat named Hoo-Hoo; and there you have it: the climax of the novel and also my favorite scene.

Hoffman: A debut novel is, for many writers, their heart and soul; we open a vein and give so much to our firstborn. What did it feel like to finally complete your story?
Rasmussen: I was alone when I typed the last words, and it was very late at night. A part of me wanted to wake my husband and my daughter, to open a bottle of champagne, and to celebrate with the people I loved most in the world. What I ended up doing was taking a walk to the waterfall and millpond up the road. I remember the way the moon looked in the sky. I remember the sound of falling water. I remember the call of an owl high up in a tree. I remember the lightness of my heart, my feet. If giving birth to my daughter was the first great accomplishment of my life, finishing my book was the second.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

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. As elderly women, sisters Twiss and Milly live alone in the house where they grew up in Spring Green, Wis. They spend their days tending to injured birds and roaming their land, lost in memories. For Milly, there is the constant reminder of what could have been. Twiss spent her childhood happily trailing behind their golf-pro father, but Milly dreamed about a family and children that never happened. There was hope for a young Milly, until an accident strips their father of his golfing abilities and sets in motion a series of events that rips apart the already unstable family. Dad retreats to the barn, and mom bemoans her choice to marry for love, leaving behind her wealthy family; a cousin who was thought to be a friend becomes an unexpected rival; and the sisters are left with only each other. As young women, and as old ones, they learn that their relationship is rewarding, but not without consequence. Achingly authentic and almost completely character driven, the story of the sisters depicts the endlessly binding ties of family. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

I live in Los Angeles, CA with my husband and daughter, where I teach writing at UCLA. In addition to writing, I'm reading some wonderful nonfiction books these days (My Life in France by Julia Child is my favorite of the bunch!) and I'm training for a half-marathon this fall. I also love to bake pies. Raspberry. Blueberry. Peach. Yum. This is only miraculous because I essentially grew up in a microwave. Because of this, I am interested in all things old and outdated. I love to think about hope chests and house dresses. Sideboards are big ones, too. I'm always on the brink of trying to put up jam like my great grandmother used to do.

The Bird Sisters is my first novel. Evergreen is my second. Visit me at

Customer Reviews

The novel is character driven and the prose is simply beautiful.
The prose is ok and the plot and characters are fine, but I didn't like the secrets that are revealed near the end of the book; I found them to be very distasteful.
This is the kind of book that stays with you long after you finish reading.
Jin Choi

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Darlene on April 18, 2011
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.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Christi Craig on April 17, 2011
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.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Utah Mom VINE VOICE on April 14, 2011
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.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Japan Reader on May 8, 2011
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.
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