Book Review of Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

Posted May 9, 2013 by Kara in Uncategorized / 6 Comments

Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: March 26th, 2013
Pages: 176
Genre: Young Adult-Contemporary
Source: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Description from GoodreadsA teenage girl. A survivalist childhood. And now a bomb strapped to her chest. See the world through her eyes in this harrowing and deeply affecting literary thriller.

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 — four-year-old Valley 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. But now, with Da unexpectedly gone and no home to return to, a teenage Valley (now Valkyrie) and her big brother must bring their message to 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. Blythe Woolston infuses her white-knuckle narrative, set in a day-after-tomorrow Montana, with a dark, trenchant humor and a keen psychological eye. Alternating past-present vignettes in prose as tightly wound as the springs of a clock and as masterfully plotted as a game of chess, she ratchets up the pacing right to the final, explosive end.

This review has spoilers. I simply cannot write it without them. If you intend to read this novel, I’d skip this review because I have to talk about the writing, and considering it has an unreliable narrator, it’s impossible to not spoil something. 

Before I get started, Black Helicopters is not a dystopian novel. It is a contemporary novel. A very disturbing contemporary novel. With a majorly unreliable narrator. Valley keeps you confused the entire time, wondering what is really going on. Thing is, it’s really not that complicated. Whatever you think is probably going on is actually probably going on. There are very few surprises here. But living inside Valley’s mind while she narrates can be a very confusing place regardless, not to mention, she is a little hard to like because of her viewpoint. I actually didn’t mind here though because in most cases you really aren’t supposed to like unreliable narrators. 

Valley was raised in a cabin in the wilderness away from people. She lived a very sheltered life with a very unstable man who influenced and brainwashed every thought and feeling she had. Because of this, everything she does and says after she gets out into the real world is colored by her experience. She thinks everyone and everything is out to get her. She is afraid of these black helicopters that killed her Mabby. 

This is not a novel that will get you a lot of answers. It is very literary in scope. The writing was lovely, but also a bit simple for me. You will finish reading with so many questions. Do the black helicopters really exist? Are they truly bad? What happened to Mabby? Even the ending is not concrete. It is assumed what happened, but you have to kind of lead yourself there. It’s sort of open ended. There is some tough subject matter here, and with the things that have been going on in our world lately, utterly relevant and difficult to read at times.

I did like this book. But it was disturbing and I lacked the emotional connection to it that I think I was supposed to feel. So often, reading is influenced by our own personal experiences, and more often than not, the really tough contemporaries don’t make me feel as much I I should. I was just left feeling uncomfortable and cold. That said, it does pack a punch and I do think the right reader will enjoy it quite a bit. It just wasn’t the right book for me at this time. 

3/5 Dragons

6 responses to “Book Review of Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

  1. I’m sorry this didn’t work for you 🙁

    I know there are a lot of readers who need that emotional connection to the main character. But if I’m interested in the plot or the subject matter, I can almost always overlook that.

    Great review, Kara. I can’t wait to see for myself how I feel about this one.

    • I think I can do without the emotional connection IF the plot completely engages me. In this case, I felt it was lacking in some areas. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts though.

  2. On one hand: unreliable narrator! Score!

    On the other: more questions than answers, boo!

    I’m cautiously intrigued. I hate reading disturbing books that don’t… well.. affect me. It makes me feel like I’m Dexter or Jasper Dent. However, I’ll keep an eye out for this one. Maybe if I find it on sale somewhere, someday.

    Great review, Kara!

    • Thanks, Jessie. You never know. It might be me. I feel like short books sometimes are too short to emotionally engage me. I don’t know. The book will probably win a Printz and I will feel like an idiot.

  3. Amy

    I only read the first few lines of the review since I am intrigued and might pick this up sometime. I do see that you only gave it three stars, so I’m sorry that you didn’t like it better.

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