Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Age Group: Mature Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic, Thriller
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: March 26th 2013
Synopsis: A 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.
Black Helicopters is a brief novel that I have no doubt will puzzle a person a bit if the person just simple read it. There are hidden details that can be hard to spot– even I don’t really know if I truly understand the story that Black Helicopters offered. And I think that it was meant to be that way. I think that Blythe Woolston wrote this story so the reader could experience the feeling of being hallow, unsettled, and shocked.
One of the things about this book that surprised me is the very story itself. I would reckon that there aren’t many YA books out there in the world containing the topic of suicide terrorist, much less have a main character who is one with a bomb currently strapped to her chest. But the bleak story isn’t just about a teenage girl named Valley walking around with a bomb. No, it is about the reasons why she is the person she is in the now and how those reasons came to be.
Valley (now called Valkyrie) is a character that I was saddened by. She felt hallow and unhopeful, and that made my heart sink. In the chapters that tell of when she was a child, she was happy and innocent, but as she grew up in an environment that was gradually going completely rotten, she became a person whose only purpose was to destroy Those People. Woolston’s characterization of Valley is excellent and I couldn’t ask for anything better– no matter how much Valley made me want to cry.
Another noteable thing about Valley is the fact that she is an unreliable narrator. Her perception of everything is tricky, clouded by what her father had drilled into her about Those People who fly inside the black helicopters. It’s hard to tell if something she believes is true is actually true and not a lie. And while I don’t believe there can be a large number different interpretations of the ‘truth’ that stay within a realistic spectrum, it can be hard to form an interpretation amongst the could-be lies and could-be truths. Unless, of course, you accept everything that Valley knows as the truth.
An aspect of Black Helicopters I especially liked is how Woolston connects her story with the game of chess. There is just something so powerful about building up a plan and strategy and comparing the obstacles and the things you control to the pawns on a chessboard.
Woolston’s use of words is very simple and has a literary feel to it. This causes some passages to be nothing but lovely. Unfortunately, despite all the loveliness, the writing wasn’t able to really capture me and create a strong emotional connection to me and the story for the majority of the novel until the end. I was definitely affected by the story, I felt sad, hallow, and I felt the bleakness, but I didn’t feel particularly attached.
The novel has an odd ending. It ends everything in the middle of one important action, and action that could kill, making the reader just assume what happened. And I don’t know how I feel about it. There are two different endings that one could accept, one ending being an ending that blows everything out like a candle, another one being a hopeful one. I love that. But I also love knowing how a story ends. So I can’t exactly give a solid opinion on the ending…
It’s hard to write a review for a book that I have such of an ambiguous opinion of. And Black Helicopters is one of those books. It’s a book that is unapologetic for what it is though, a bleak book that makes a person feel empty and at the same time desperate. This is a story that is worth picking up and reading through only a little below two hundred pages, so I recommend it. Just be prepared.