Review: Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

 

Title:  Black Helicopters

Author:  Blythe Woolston

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

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.


Review:

Wow – this is a powerful read, despite the short length, but I don’t know how I feel about it.  I don’t know if this is a book that you can like.  It’s certainly compelling, and I could not put it down, but ultimately, there are so many questions that were never answered to my satisfaction.  I guess I hated that Valley was nothing more than a pawn, and even when she had the chance to leave her past behind her, she choose to hold steadfast to her father’s survivalist training and strike out at Those People.  Whoever the heck Those People were!   Argh!

Black Helicopters is told through Valley’s present day adventures and flashbacks to her childhood.  Her mother was killed by black helicopters when she was in the garden picking beans, leaving her father to raise her and her brother, Bo.  They live somewhere and somewhen in Montana.  Valley and Bo are expected to keep themselves hidden from Those People while their father is away from the family’s rustic cabin, so they aren’t shot and killed like coyotes.  They are trained in survival skills; drop Valley on the side of mountain with a knife, and she’ll get by without much else.  They have caches of supplies hidden in case the government comes for them, and they have been taught how to hide and how to fight.

In the present day narrative, Valley is a suicide bomber. She is angry and tired of not being able to strike back at the people who have taken so much from her.  She decides to make the ultimate statement and make the ultimate sacrifice to wake people up.  The government, with their secrets and their black helicopters, are out to get everyone!  Surrounded by like minded individuals, Valley and her brother have been training for something big like this for their whole lives.  After seeking refuge with Wolf and his family, Valley is dismayed at the changes in Bo.  He isn’t acting like her brother anymore, and she makes up her mind then, as he changes before her eyes, that she’s going to make people sit up and take notice.  What I found depressing was that I don’t think Valley ever really knew Bo; he was allowed freedoms denied to her, as he worked with their father, going into the outside world while Valley was left at home in the den, keeping herself hidden and secret.  Bo was able to see and do so many things, and the world outside of the den wasn’t such a mystery to him. 

Parts of this book just bothered me.  Valley is powerless virtually the entire book.  Her own father only values her for the help she gives him during his acts of domestic terrorism.  She and Bo have been thoroughly brainwashed, and she would never ever even dream of going against his orders.  Her entire purpose is to be a good little soldier and follow her mission to the end.  When  Valley is molested by the man who is supposed to offer them a safe haven, she doesn’t tell Bo.  She is forced to keep this terrible secret and endure this awful man’s abuse because she’s afraid he’ll kill her brother.  Valley doesn’t have much power over her own life until she and Bo escape to Wolf’s; there, she makes the decision to don a vest and make the loudest, most violent statement possible.

Another problem that I had is that it is so hard to like or be sympathetic for Valley and her family.  They see threats everywhere, and they must be constantly on guard.  They believe that the deadly black helicopters are just a horizon away, that they will eventually come for them and kill them dead.  Deadly conspiracies abound, and every one will end with their deaths.  With her constant vigilance, it’s hard to get to know her, and that ever present wariness kept an emotional distance from Valley and the reader.

All of that out of the way, this is an impossible book to put down.  I wanted to know what happened next, and I gobbled this book up.  I’m just not sure how much I actually liked it.  I certainly hated the ending, because it seemed so pointless to me.  I guess I don’t agree that any cause is worth dying for, and I was angry that Valley thought that hers was.  I just saw her as gullible and brainwashed, which made her come across as pathetic.  She wasn’t heroic or brave; she was a puppet, and that made this book even more depressing.  The adults who should have been teaching, mentoring, and inspiring her all failed her.  They were so caught up by their own agenda, by their own need to cause civil chaos, that they didn’t leave any other path for Valley.  My own mind set and world view is too firmly established to accept that any cause is worth the life of a teenager.  So, I recommend this book, with the many reservations listed above.

Grade:  C+/B-

Review copy provided by publisher