Monday, June 2, 2014

Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

"I'm Valkyrie White. I’m fifteen. Your government killed my family.
Ever since Mabby died while picking beans in their garden--with the pock-a-pock of a helicopter overhead--Valkyrie knows what her job is: hide in the underground den with her brother, Bo, while Da is working, because Those People will kill them like coyotes.
One Year Ago:
Those People have come. It has to be them, because when Valkyrie and Bo return from a lesson of alert and ready, everything is on fire and Da is gone. But they've been trained by their Da for this: It's time to wait. Time to prepare. Time to be invisible. 
Last Fall: 
Maybe Da's not coming back. Maybe. So Bo and Valkyrie must enter the outside world--a not-so-smart place where little boys wear their names on their backpacks and young men don't pat down strangers before offering a lift. People should be more careful. 
This Afternoon: 
Valkyrie finds herself in a twisted game of life and death where winning is all that matters. And in a final, trigger-tense moment of when and where and who, it all comes down to . . . 

Well. I'd like to open this review with a cursory statement, and sorry if it's not quite censored, but this deserves it: this book is creepy as hell. There's really no other way to put it, I'm sorry. I'd like to lay out a few more points of the story than the summary gave, if you don't terribly mind not finding them out for yourself. I just want to elaborate on what you're getting into if you decide to read this: this is about a teenage suicide bomber. I honestly didn't quite get that from the blurb--I couldn't figure out if it was just a post-apocalyptic storyline, or conspiracy plot, or what. The story is also structured to put the actual pieces together slowly, interspersing bare current-time scenes with events that happened in the past. I finally got an idea of the complete picture around page 50. 
That isn't to say, though, that it's badly written--quite the opposite. I have no problem saying that this is very well written and carefully structured. The "present" scenes span about a day, and between them the "past" scenes start ten years before and work up to months or weeks before, showing the life she's led that leads her to that present. Things are still developing up until the end. You get an unsettling idea early on that the narrator--Valley--is, if not unhinged, at least not a fully reliable narrator. Threads of rage, detachment, and deep-rooted paranoia run through her account, and crafted chess parallels run through the entire book. 
It's, overall, a deeply unsettling thing to read. It's not dystopian or post-apocalyptic either, really; it exists in some gray area that Valkyrie's state of mind doesn't allow us to fully pin down, but it's not overly futuristic. That bit adds to the unsettling nature, and I'm sure has a lot of literary weight. Finally, untangling whether there's truth in Valkyrie's conditioned beliefs about the black helicopters and Those People is nearly impossible. Overall, it's dark, bleak, and pulls no punches. For a 170-ish page book, it's incredibly intense and I'm sure would be conducive to re-reading to pull together more facets of the story.
I'll just say this: I didn't enjoy it--not that I think you're really supposed to, but I won't be re-reading this. It's incredibly intense, mature at times, and not recommendable for anyone under about 10th grade. I will say that it's very well-executed for what it is, and leave you to decide whether you want to try it. There's a copy at Kettleson.
Just be prepared.

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