by Gloria M: What could be more intriguing than a new debut novel about an autistic woman that is written by an author who has studied autism on a graduate level and is actually autistic herself? “All the Little Bird-Hearts” by Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow is a perfect choice to kick off your 2024 reading!    It is superbly crafted, wise and funny and heart-warming. Sunday is our main protagonist and she sharply examines her life and motherhood and her relationship with her sixteen year old daughter Dolly (named Dolores after Sunday’s deceased sister.) The details of her condition are explained with thought provoking style and realistic incidents and occurrences. Sunday’s experiences with her need to enact her natural behaviors such as assigned lists of foods (all white foods on certain days) and inability to conduct “normal” conversations allow the reader to understand and empathize with her life and the reactions of those around her.

When Vita, along with her husband Rols, appears as the temporary resident next door, Sunday is quickly fascinated by the quirky, wealthy woman.  Initially, Vita’s ability to accept and enjoy Sunday for who she actually is gives the reader hope. As Sunday herself says early on in the book, “These things that I accurately discerned about Vita were not, as it emerged, the important ones.” As the narrative continues we learn of Sunday’s failed marriage to Alex (nicknamed the King) and her childhood with a cold hearted mother and a father whose “bird heart” was loving but only for his wife. The circumstances regarding the drowning death of Sunday’s sister and Sunday’s role in that tragedy are revealed with appropriate emotion and empathy.

The pages almost turn themselves and pull the reader into the captivating story. As Vita and Sunday grow closer, the reader will become increasingly uneasy. As Vita begins to transfer her attention to Sunday’s daughter, the apprehension mounts. The cracks in Vita’s charisma widen and the reader recognizes why “All the Little Bird-Hearts” was longlisted for the 2023 Booker Prize. This book deserves to move to the top of your TBR stack. It will linger in the thoughts of this reader for a long, long time.