Thursday, February 28, 2013

Black Helicopters

Black Helicopters
Blythe Woolston
Candlewick, 2013
$15.99, Hardcover

Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: 14+
Description: Valkyrie White is 15 years old. She believes the government killed her family. Ever since she was a young child and Mabby (her mom) died while out tending the family garden, her father has warned her and her older brother, Bo, to be wary of the black helicopters (one was in the air when Mabby died) and to avoid Those People at all costs. Recently, her and Bo returned to their home and found the place burned to the ground and their father presumably dead. With no one to help them, Val and Bo set out to deliver their father’s message to the outside world and it won’t be a happy one.
Opinion: This is a very short book but a powerfully disturbing one. Its slimness should not let readers think it is an easy read. The story takes place in very short chapters that alternate between different periods of time. Val is a complex character. Her whole development has been stunted. Thus, the voice of the novel is very unique—at times Val comes across as immature and childish and at others someone to be scared of. Readers will slowly begin to piece the story of Val’s life together from the little vignettes. Somehow her family went to live off the land in a remote mountainous area of Montana. There her father, one of those odd radicals who would easily be in a cult, raised his children to fear and distrust the outside world, especially after their mother dies. We learn that he has passed his beliefs on to his children and Val, in particular, was for the past few years of her life his “secret” weapon and kept hidden away until he was ready to use her. We learn that he probably caused his own death because he clearly was making bombs for “clients” and must have accidentally blown their house up. With nowhere to go, they make their way to an acquaintance of their fathers who is psychically and emotionally abusive and forces Bo to traffic children into Canada and Val to “pay their rent” with her body. When they run away from him to another set of their father’s acquaintances Val finally finds purpose to her life—she is going to go to the world of Those People with a massive bomb strapped to her chest. Unfortunately, her driver makes a pit stop and explodes their car causing their whole plan to derail. Val walks to a nearby school and meeting a young boy gets a ride with his older brother. Soon these two outsiders are trapped with an emotionally disturbed girl who plans on suicide bombing something to get attention. Val, while childish and bitchy at different times, is a sympathetic character. She is clearly a product of her environment—raised to believe the crazy beliefs of her father. Her upbringing and what happens to her are highly disturbing. This is definitely for older readers because, while it is clear that Val’s life sucks, the rape scene is clearly described and you kind of know it’s going to happen but it is still a complete shock. This book would be an excellent choice for a mature book discussion among older teens. I can’t wait for my teens to read the galley and see what they think. 

Here is what one of my teens had to say:

Sarah, 15, says, “In regards to the cover, I felt like it didn’t really reflect anything from the book. What is it even? A weird eye? While it didn’t reflect the contents, I do think it was cool looking and liked it. The most compelling aspect of this book was the last few pages when Eric calls the police and the police and firefighters come to find Val where Eric hit her on the head and ran away and everything that happens after that point.  I do feel that the ending could have been a little better. It just seemed like it needed a little more. I like how the book’s plot was told in present day and in the use of flashbacks. I think it helped tell the story and was a cool way to reveal Val’s background. I feel like it could have built up more suspense/mystery and then make the climax even more super exciting. All in all it was a good book. The dad was totally crazy though. I was sad that Val died at the end, but, oh well, she clearly wanted to. I think it was good that she did die because it gave the book something strong to end on instead of her being saved. The book was a brutal book and, while good, I think will appeal to only particular readers and might cause some controversy among more conservative readers. My biggest complaint with the story was that the book was very short and I felt at times it was lacking in plot details that could have been remedied if it had been longer. The biggest thing that confused me was the setting. I could tell it was in the upper mountain region but I was really bothered that I didn’t know what time period this way taking place in. Overall, it was nice to see a horribly brutal realistic book about a poor girl who is totally a product of her environment be submitted to the YA Galley Project. It gave me a chance to read something that wasn’t paranormal and was a brutal look at life."

*Thanks to Andie Krawczyk at Candlewick for providing an ARC of this title for the YA Galley Group project!*

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