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Book Review: Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

Valkyrie White is fifteen, and the government’s black helicopters killed her parents.  This is what Valkyrie believes and has been told since she was a little girl.  Now, she and her brother Beau continue the fight her father had waged against the government since they were small.  She and Beau know that Those People won’t hesitate to kill them, so they must always be on alert in order to survive.  But now, Valkyrie’s mission is to make people wake up and pay attention.  It’s her most important mission.  It’s also her last.

Blythe Woolston’s latest book for teens is memorable, terrifying, and absolutely unforgettable.  It’s also impossible to put down.  Definitely a book that requires a close reading (and probably more than one go through), Black Helicopters is a standout title for 2013.

In this novel, Woolston explores the evolution of a suicide bomber, and it’s a superb examination of what a secular terrorist looks like.  Told solely from the perspective of Valkyrie, readers only know what Valkyrie knows–and that’s often pretty vague.  She is proud, and she is very smart–but she’s also incredibly brainwashed by the adults in her life.  Woolston plays with Valkyrie’s self-sufficiency and resolve and pits it against the fact that while she’s a powerful force, she’s also a pawn in a much larger game.  It’s brilliant and absolutely chilling.

The slow, tense revelation of Valkyrie’s plans and motivations make this one story that readers won’t be able to get out of their heads.  It’s tightly written and intriguingly structured.  The narrative flips between Valkyrie’s past as a small, sheltered child and her present, where she must navigate a world filled with Those People.  It’s unflinching in its portrayal of Valkyrie and the people who surround her, and readers will work hard to unravel the novel’s message and meaning.

This is a hard book, and it’s going to be a struggle for some readers.  Valkyrie isn’t a sympathetic character, and readers aren’t supposed to like her.  That will be a tough sell for some, but it’s the entire point here: what could Valkyrie have been under different circumstances?  Woolston isn’t interested in a redemption story, and thank goodness, because this novel’s dedication to its dark themes makes it all the more impressive.

Haunting and pitch-perfect.  Highly recommended.

Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston. Candlewick Press: 2013. Library copy read for the 2013 Cybils.

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