Review: Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

Black HelicoptersTitle: Black Helicopters

Author: Blythe Woolston

Publisher: Candlewick

Release Date: March 26th, 2013

Interest: Contemp / Recommended

Source: Borrowed from the library

Summary (From Goodreads):

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.

If I’m being honest with you, I wasn’t sure I was going to review Black Helicopters because it’s a book I need to read one or two more times before I’ll feel comfortable discussing it.  I don’t think I understood everything enough to really discuss it with anyone.  Actually, I would probably benefit from discussing Blythe Woolston’s book with someone because it would most likely offer some needed insight.

Hopefully that garbled first paragraph didn’t turn you away from this book.  It’s a discussion-worthy book that’s definitely worth reading.  Since I’m being quite honest in this review (not that I’m not always honest), it made me feel kind of dumb at times.  That was tough to write and hopefully that makes you *want* to read it. Blythe Woolston has written a richly layered literary novel that’s dense for being only 176 pages long.  Valley is an unreliable narrator and her story is told from multiple time periods.  It requires a lot of attention, and like I said, rereading.  It’s an excellent book.

Something that I love about Black Helicopters is the chess game motif.  I’m familiar enough with chess that I could follow it, but if I understood chess better than I do, I would probably better understand how the motif is used.  The combination of Valley being an unreliable narrator and the story switching time periods left me feeling like a pawn in Valley’s game of chess.  The pacing is so fast and the story is so complex, I really had to focus while reading.

What will probably throw readers is that Black Helicopters isn’t a dystopian novel.  Although it reads like one.  At one point I thought, “Have these kids been brainwashed?”  The scary truth is, Valley’s life is real for some people.  We may not regularly think about militia families or families who are truly paranoid of the government.  This book has the potential to be really eye-opening for readers, especially readers who don’t think of terrorists being born and raised in the United States.  Valley’s trying to survive while living among terrorists.

As I said, this is a tough book to review, but it’s one worth reading.  It’s definitely for mature readers.  It’s definitely a book I’m buying for my classroom library.


  1. I keep meaning to read this! I did think it was dystopian based on some other comments I’ve seen, and I’m actually thrilled to hear it’s not. Thanks for the review!

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