Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven is a novel that was written by Karen Salyer McElmurray. McElmurray is an American writer of many genres, and this novel is actually her first. Most of her books are of the fiction or memoir type, and Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven is a beautiful yet haunting novel that displays her creativity in her writing. McElmurray grew up in a challenging environment during her childhood, as her father moved their family around as he tried to do his best with his new job in the education department of Kentucky. On top of that difficulty, McElmurray’s mother suffered from depression. However, McElmurray continued writing, sometimes taking from these struggles and her own experiences.
A deeply personal novel, Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven is set in Kentucky, McElmurray’s home state, in the town of Mining Hollow. The protagonist is named Ruth Blue Wallen, and she is married with a son. Wallen is struggling with her faith and religion, as she is working to find and connect with God. Wallen lived a very difficult life, full of defeat emotionally and spiritually, and she finds religion as her escape amidst all of her defeat. Her husband also misses music as he is now a coal miner; her son doesn’t have a best friend, which actually isn’t socially acceptable in his rural town. Between these three characters, McElmurray’s novel Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven explores the deeply sensitive and personal themes of mental health, beliefs, and desires of the human mind.