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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Review: Blackwood

Blackwood by Gwenda Bond. Strange Chemistry. 2012. Reviewed from ARC.

blackwood Review: BlackwoodThe Plot: Roanoke, North Carolina. Miranda Blackwood is going into her senior year. She’s the daughter of the town drunk, and an outcast. Her escape is her involvement in the local summer production of the Lost Colony, that honors (and profits from) what Roanoke is best known for, the colony of 114 English men, women, and children that went missing in the late sixteenth century. The members of the cast and crew are usually out of towners who don’t care that Miranda is a Blackwood.

They do care when Miranda interrupts and almost ruins the play. Miranda sees something that no one else saw, just fueling the rumors about her and her family. People quickly have something new to worry about: people in Roanoke have disappeared.

One hundred and fourteen people. The same number as those who disappeared over 400 years ago.

Something is happening. Something bad. And it has something to do with Miranda and her family.

The Good: I’ll be honest: Bond had me at Roanoke. I’ve been intrigued by the Lost Colony since first hearing about it as a teen, and have read tons of fiction and non-fiction about it. What delighted me about Blackwood was not only that it’s about the Lost Colony, but also that it’s a supernatural approach to the disappearance.

Bond quickly establishes that Blackwood will be fantastical, when Miranda sees the shadow of an ominous black ship in the air. It’s grounded in gritty reality, though: Miranda as the outsider, living with her alcoholic father, trying to make ends meet, being the town and school joke, dreaming of leaving the island. One hundred and fourteen people disappear; the headlines scream, “Mass Disappearance In Outer Banks: Colonists Lost Again.”

Phillips Rawling, the bad-boy son of the police chief, returns from his boarding school because of the disappearance and looks up Miranda. Miranda remembers him as a bad kid who made her life at school even worse, before he was sent off island. What she doesn’t know is that Phillips can hear the dead. When he called her a liar, a traitor, a carrier, and a snake in front of the whole school, it was because of the voices he heard all the time. The only thing silencing the voices was going off island.

Miranda and Phillips team up; she to find her father, who is one of the disappeared. He, because the voices are now gone but he still suspects something supernatural is happening. He is also sorry about what he inadvertently did to Miranda all those years ago. Their investigation — one, of course, that the police or FBI would never understand or get — has them researching the Lost Colony and crackpot theories and odd links. I don’t want to give away too much about what they find, about the disappearances in the past and present. I will say: it’s original; there’s enough historical fact to make one say “oh, goodie!”; and Miranda and Phillips are just the right mix of smart and adventurous to get things done without talking stupid risks.

Other things I can say I love without being the spoiler queen: Miranda sewing and making her own clothes, and how that’s important to her as a character. The Blackwood family history. The small town feel. The way Blackwood captures a shore tourist town. (I grew up and live at the Jersey Shore, so loved her town / tourists bits.) The historical/supernatural mash up. The romantic element between Miranda and Phillips that is organic to the story and never overpowers it. The examination of free will, of being cursed, of fate. Of whether something is a curse or a gift. The action adventure. All the TV shows and films that are referenced that I know (and, chances are, watching those programs and shows helped Miranda and Phillips!) And, finally — and most importantly — a strong female main character.

Final words: Stand alone. I know! Much as I love being able to revisit worlds and people in series and companion books, there is something very satisfying about getting to the end of a story and knowing it’s the end.

Final, final words: A Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Other reviews: Weirdmage’s Reviews; The Book Smugglers; Thoughts From the Hearthfire; The Tattooed Book.

Disclosure: I am on a listserv that organizes things like the Summer & Winter Blog Blast Tours, and so is Gwenda.

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Lisa says:

    The Kirkus review was so negative that I skipped over this, but I guess I’ll have to give it a try!

  2. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Lisa, I took a peak at the Kirkus review. Their are definately differences of opinion — the Book Smugglers didn’t like it either — so I’ll be interested in what you think.

  3. Melinda says:

    Gwenda is pretty awesome and I need to get my mitts on this book!

  4. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Melinda, let us know what you think!

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