I'm a huge fan of Susan Beth Pfeffer's "moon" books, particularly the first one, Life As We Knew It. Pfeffer's upcoming young adult novel, Blood Wounds, is a very different book, but a compelling one. Blood Wounds is realistic fiction about family dysfunction, domestic violence, and cutting.
High school junior Willa lives with her mother, stepfather, and two stepsisters on the east coast. The relative wealth of her stepsisters' mother, compared to her own humble means, causes a fair bit of stress for Willa. While her stepsisters go on trips to Europe, and receive gifts of cars and horses, Willa can't even afford voice lessons. She fears that if she complains about anything, she'll lose her stepfather's love (and maybe even her mother's). The only way she can find to release the hidden tension is to, as infrequently as she can manage, cut herself.
However, the stress of being part of a blended family pales when the police show up at Willa's door. Her birth father in Pryor, Texas has apparently snapped and killed his new family. And now, he's on his way toward Willa. In the process of hiding out from her father, and later visiting his hometown, Willa learns that her mother has been keeping secrets from her. Through the events of a week or so, Willa's life is changed forever.
Blood Wounds has a bit of the feel of Caroline Cooney's suspense novels (see reviews of If the Witness Lied and They Never Came Back). Although some of the events are quite dark (there's a scene in which Willa literally sees the blood spatter from her father's crime), the book isn't as bleak as it sounds. I think this is because even though Willa's story is told in the first person, there's an emotional reserve to her. She describes how and why she cuts herself, for example, but her suffering still feels a bit remote from the reader (or this reader, anyway). I was caught up in the suspense, wanting to know what would happen, but I didn't ache for Willa on a personal level. That's not necessarily a shortcoming of the book - I think that Pfeffer wrote Willa that way deliberately. It's more like having a bit of emotional distance makes reading the book bearable.
Most readers will see, before Willa does, the imperfections in her so-called happy blended family. We feel a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop when Willa's stepfather says, on page 5:
"We're a happy family. But we're not identical to other happy families. Happy families come in their own shapes and varieties, same as the unhappy ones."
But relating to Willa's feelings about the horrific actions of her birth father is harder. How many readers can even begin to comprehend what it would feel like to have a parent commit a horrific crime? There is a quite vivid and memorable scene in which Willa imagines what might have been going through her father's head - I can sort of picture the movie version, but my brain shies away from the images.
Willa does show occasional flashes of humor. Like this:
"Mom called me that night, after Faye and I had eaten what passed for pizza in Pryor. If I'd given any serious thought to staying in Pryor and working in the tannery, the pizza convinced me otherwise." (Page 119)
And I like the way she evolves and matures over the course of the book, from "Quiet-Never-Make-A-Fuss Willa" to someone willing to make decisions for herself, and find her place in the world and in her family. Her growth is notable, but not so over the top as to be implausible.
Blood Wounds is an intriguing mix of suspense and problem novel, of ripped-from-the-headlines newscamera drama and the quiet desperation of a lonely teen. If you can get past what I think is a pretty disturbing cover, it's well worth a look. Recommended.
Publisher: Harcourt (@hmhbooks)
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.