The Wild Birds by Emily Strelow – Book Review

The Wild Birds by Emily Strelow – Book Review

The Wild Birds by Emily Strelow

The Wild Birds

Author – Emily Strelow
Publisher – Rare Bird Books
Pages – 248
Released – 29th March 2018
ISBN-13 – 978-1945572753
Format – hardcover
Reviewer – Julie
Rating – 4 Stars
I received a free copy of this book.
This post contains affiliate links.


Cast adrift in 1870s San Francisco after the death of her mother, a girl named Olive disguises herself as a boy and works as a lighthouse keeper’s assistant on the Farallon Islands to escape the dangers of a world unkind to young women. In 1941, nomad Victor scours the Sierras searching for refuge from a home to which he never belonged. And in the present day, precocious fifteen year-old Lily struggles, despite her willfulness, to find a place for herself amongst the small town attitudes of Burning Hills, Oregon.

Living alone with her hardscrabble mother Alice compounds the problem―though their unique relationship to the natural world ties them together, Alice keeps an awful secret from her daughter, one that threatens to ignite the tension growing between them.

Emily Strelow’s mesmerizing debut stitches together a sprawling saga of the feral Northwest across farmlands and deserts and generations: an American mosaic alive with birdsong and gunsmoke, held together by a silver box of eggshells―a long-ago gift from a mother to her daughter. Written with grace, grit, and an acute knowledge of how the past insists upon itself, The Wild Birds is a radiant and human story about the shelters we find and make along our crooked paths home.

Review new 2021

‘The Wild Birds’ is the debut novel by American author, Emily Strelow. The book comprises three diverse stories, delivered in interspersed chapters, spanning over a century and loosely bound together by the acquisition of a silver box of eggshells. Each story is written in the third person from the perspectives of several of the main characters.

The author has taken great care to set her scenes. She has a real affinity with flora, fauna and the environment; such that I almost felt like I should be listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams in the background as I read about the Northern Harrier hanging in the air over a thin patchwork of forest.

Through imagery and symbolism, I was taken on a colourful journey from the small town of Burning Woods in the northwest coastal state of Oregon down through the Farallon Islands, to the arid Mojave Desert in California and on to the Sonoran Desert, spanning parts of California, Arizona and Mexico.

I very much liked the story of Olive, set in the 1870s. The descriptive passages were very vivid and the idea of a sixteen year old girl passing herself off as a boy really grabbed my imagination. The pathos of Olive’s story is fascinating and I would have been happy if the whole book had been devoted to exploring her life in more depth.

The contemporary family dynamic between Alice and Lily can be understood when the reader is taken into Alice’s confidence regarding Lily’s natural father. Undoubtedly much of Alice’s adult life and the choices she makes have been shaped by events from her past. The relationship between mother and daughter is tense at times with unpalatable truths bubbling just beneath the surface.

The author’s message is clearly one of survival – protecting nature and protecting loved ones. She also explores complex human emotions and interactions as each of her multi-layered stories develop.

The three tales are well researched and thoughtfully written with the hardback being beautifully packaged. The title is very poignant and there are aspects of the book that I enjoyed. The division between dialogue and description could have been better balanced and I also wonder if the connection between the three stories is rather tenuous. Nonetheless, if you appreciate a gentle read, you will undoubtedly enjoy it. Objectively, I award ‘The Wild Birds’ four stars.

Reviewed by Julie

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About the Author

Emily Strelow

Emily Strelow was born and raised in Oregon’s Willamette Valley but has lived all over the West and now, the Midwest. For the last decade she combined teaching writing with doing seasonal avian field biology with her husband.

While doing field jobs she camped and wrote in remote areas in the desert, mountains and by the ocean. She is a mother to two boys, a naturalist, and writer. She lives in Ann Arbor, MI. The Wild Birds is her first novel.

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10 Responses

  1. Tasha says:

    Lovely review. I am not a lover of historical fiction, but I do like the sound of this.

  2. DJ Sakata says:

    You have me wanting to read a genre I typically avoid – how do you do that?

  3. Emma Mane says:

    Sweet review Julie.

  4. Gemma says:

    An eloquent review thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    Gemma @

  5. Thank you. It’s hit and miss here too.

  6. Robin Taylor says:

    Never heard of the book, but excellent review.