I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book blew me away! I was excited to read this because I had heard quite a bit about it on the grapevine (the grapevine being Twitter) but I was a little worried that it would be too corny for me, a little too: quirky characters + quirky situation = major eyerolls. In reality, this book was so moving, with beautiful writing and beautiful stories.
If Birds Fly Back is about two characters, Linny and Sebastian, drawn together by the return of prolific Miami writer Alvaro Herrera, who disappeared three years prior. Linny wants to know why Alvaro returned, in the hopes that it might help her figure out how to bring her sister, who has run away, back home. Sebastian has grown up not knowing who his father is, and now he’s looking for answers. Over the course of the summer, the pair of them try to get the answers they need from Alvaro, but while they may not get the answers that they were looking for, they discover much, much more.
The characters in this novel were brilliantly written. I felt like I knew both Linny and Sebastian so well, and I always wanted to know Alvaro more, just like they did. Both Linny and Sebastian are smart, funny, a little shy, but mostly, they’re lost. Linny is desperate to bring her sister home, and she doesn’t have the guts to break her parents’ hearts by telling them that she doesn’t want to be a doctor, she wants to make movies. Meanwhile, Sebastian is also struggling with figuring out who he is. He thinks that meeting his father will help him to solve it, just like Linny thinks that finding her sister will put her back together. They come together in their missions to fix themselves, and when they do, it’s wonderful.
Sorosiak is really good at writing lovey-dovey scenes – I mean, really good. I was swooning. The relationship between Linny and Sebastian was the perfect balance of friendship and romance for me. I was worried at one point that this would be an instal-love situation, where from one moment to the next, suddenly the characters are in love with each other, but really there was so much more to their relationship. They’re helping each other out, comforting each other, having fun, sharing secrets and mainly, helping each other to free themselves. None of the scenes felt bland, or sickly sweet, but they were the ideal mix of fun, emotion, and romance. Whether the pair are sharing a moment in a ball pit, awkwardly watching a movie, or hiding out in a closet, it always felt fun to read the development of the novel’s main romance. Sorosiak really captures the characters’ different feelings, whether its having a crush, falling in love, grief, or something as simple as feeling like you’re going to melt from the intense summer heat.
My favourite thing about the book was probably the split narration between Linny and Sebastian. They had distinct narrative voices, and I liked that they occasionally made sarcastic jokes so that it felt a little like a diary, but not often enough that it felt too much like the author was trying to make a conscious effort to make the characters look ≈cool≈. It was just enough to make them feel real. I also really liked the little details that give you some more insight into their state of mind, so with Linny, each chapter begins with a section of her notes on disappearances and reappearances, and ends with a section from a screenplay that she is writing about being abandoned. Sebastian’s chapters are littered with quotes from the science book that he is reading, and his own notes on theories. This really captures their struggles of feeling lost and abandoned, but also their particular interests and how they deal with their feelings. They’re both looking for explanations, but Linny is looking for it in stories, and Sebastian in science.
This book was absolutely marvellous. I was really impressed with it. I’m a little shocked to be saying this, because I never really thought anybody could reach these heights, but I recommend this to anyone who has read and enjoyed Jandy Nelson’s books. I got the same vibes as I do reading Jandy’s books, the same gentle balance of great characters, great romance, great stories and great writing. This is a perfect book for anyone who likes YA contemporary, and even if you don’t read young adult books, If Birds Fly Back still a wonderful story of love and loss and finding yourself.