Guest Post by Kevin Brown
Sunday Forrester, the narrator of Lloyd-Barlow’s Booker-longlisted novel All the Little Bird-Hearts, is different than her family and friends. She prefers to eat white food only; she isn’t concerned about how she dresses; and her internal monologue makes it clear that she struggles in social situations. Though she never explicitly says she’s autistic, Lloyd-Barlow’s biography explains that she has “extensive personal, professional, and academic experience relating to autism,” and the publisher’s page pronounces the book to be “a remarkable debut by an author who is herself autistic.”
Despite her struggles, though, Sunday is quite happy with her life, both with her work at her ex-husband’s family’s greenhouse and her life with her daughter from that marriage, Dolly. Her life, in fact, seems to get better when Vita and Rollo move into the house beside hers, renting it for at least the summer, perhaps longer. Vita, especially, brings excitement and color to Sunday’s life, as Vita seems the opposite of Sunday in every aspect, yet she seems enamored by her new neighbor.
Vita and Rollo begin taking Sunday, then Dolly, into their life on a more regular basis. However, Vita and Rollo bring a wider world into Dolly’s small-town life, often taking her to London and showing her what a life away from her mother could look like. They use Sunday’s differences to create conflict, heightened by the difference in wealth and class, leading to a difficult ending for all involved.
All the Little Bird-Hearts by Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow. Algonquin Books, December 2023.
Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite