THE WILD BIRDS, Emily Strelow's debut fiction/historical novel, was published March 13, 2018 by Rare Bird Books. Over a roughly 120-year span, the novel weaves together multiple overlapping stories about a diverse cast of characters who are all connected by an ornate silver box containing the egg shells of various birds. This is a novel about finding oneself and a place to call home.
Olive was originally given the silver box by her mother before her mother died in the 1870s. Realizing that the life of a female, teenage orphan offers very little opportunities, Olive disguises herself as a boy and finds work as a lighthouse keeper on the Farallon Islands west of San Francisco. There she meets Warren, a young man who works for one of the companies that raids the seabirds' nests for their eggs. Warren discovers that Olive is a girl, and together they flee the island for a life together in Northern California.
Many years later, in the 1940s, a young man runs away from his family's home in Seattle. Victor is a tender man who loves music and poetry. When his father refuses to accept his 'sissy' son, Victor runs away to a life in the deserts of Arizona. Along the way, he meets Warren. Olive has since passed away, and Warren knows he will soon follow her. As a last act, Warren gifts Victor with the silver box of eggs. Victor then continues on his travels until he finds his home in Needles, Arizona.
Victor holds on to the silver box for over forty years, waiting for the right person to come into his curio shop, Naked Antiques, for him to pass the box along to. Sal is that person. She is a transplant from Oregon. She moved to Arizona to attend college and to track various birds in the deserts during mating season. While on a brief stop in Needles to purchase supplies, Sal wanders into Naked Antiques and finds the silver box. Sal later sends the box to her friend, Alice, back in Oregon. Sal is in love with Alice, but she spends years fearing the consequences of expressing her love.
At the center of the novel is the relationship between Alice and her daughter, Lily. Their story is set in the mid-1990s. Lily is fifteen years old, and she doesn't fit in with the other teenagers in the rural area of Oregon that she calls home. She also resents her mother because Alice runs around with different men and drinks a lot. Lily feels like she is the adult in their relationship. Lily is also convinced that there is something about her mysterious, absentee father that Alice isn't telling her. Unable to deal with her mother any longer, Lily goes to live with friends for a few months. When she finally returns home, she finds her mother gone. Alice has finally decided to follow her heart to Arizona in search of Sal.
The flora and fauna of Arizona, Farallon Islands, and the Pacific Northwest plays a major role in THE WILD BIRDS. The landscape of these different locations is as diverse and unique as the characters. Birds are the most important and prevalent of the fauna featured in the novel. It is clear that Strelow knows a good deal about various birds. She is also familiar with the different types of flora native to the various locations featured in the novel. Each of the landscapes comes alive through Strelow's descriptions. THE WILD BIRDS is a beautifully written, captivating novel.