Skip to main content

Boys of Blur

I have been a huge fan of N.D. Wilson's book since I read his first, Leepike Ridge. I pre-order his books as soon as I can and devour them all. I was so excited when I discovered he had a new stand alone, the first since Leepike Ridge, coming out this year. Then everyone else (who doesn't read their ARCs in order of publication date, or at least doesn't get as behind as I sometimes do) started singing its praises and my excitement and expectations increased. Basically, I had astronomical expectations for this book going into it and it managed to surpass them.

This is a review of an ARC from the publisher.

When Charlie moves from Palm Beach to the small town of Taper, Florida, he discovers a different world. Pinned between the everglades and the swampy banks of Lake Okeechobee, the small town produces sugar cane . . . and the fastest runners in the country. Kids chase muck rabbits in the fields while the cane is being burned and harvested. Dodging flames and blades and breathing smoke, they run down the rabbits for three dollars a skin. And when they can do that, running a football is easy.  
But there are things in the swamp, roaming the cane at night, that cannot be explained, and they seem connected to sprawling mounds older than the swamps. Together with his step-second cousin Herman "Cotton" Mack, the fastest boy on the muck, Charlie hunts secrets in the glades and on the muck flats where the cane grows secrets as old as the soft earth, secrets that haunted, tripped, and trapped the original native tribes, ensnared conquistadors, and buried runaway slaves. Secrets only the muck knows.

Boys of Blur is a story of brotherhood, rivalry, football, family, and Beowulf. Yes, Beowulf. 

Charlie has a past that haunts him and also fills him with hope and purpose. His mother left his dangerously violent father when he was only five. Charlie remembers the fear and what it was like to be running from him. He has a step-dad now though who is everything that is wonderful and encouraging and an adorable little sister. As the story opens, Charlie's past and present are colliding. Back in the town where both his father and step-father grew up, and where both men currently are working, Charlie is facing a present that is both haunting and hopeful too. This story is about him finding the courage to face the things that frighten him, let go of the things eating at his soul, and learning to run with the best of them-not away from things but toward them. He is a character who pulls at the reader and draws them into the story. His step-second-cousin, Cotton, who claims him as just a cousin, welcomes him to his new home and teaches him a bit about the town and the running. The two boys bond like most boys do: running and getting into trouble together. I really liked this aspect. The cast of other characters are wide and varied. This is a short book, less than 200 pages, and yet the entire town comes to life. Each character has a distinct voice and that includes all of the adults. I particularly liked Mack, Charlie's ex-football star step-father. I also appreciated how the storyline with Charlie's real father was handled. 

This sounds like fairly typical MG contemporary realistic fiction at this point, but it isn't. Because there is something not quite alive but not quite dead wreaking havoc in the flats. Old rivalries are tearing the town apart. The little jealousies, bitter musings, and grudges people have cradled in their hearts are taking over their whole souls. Everyone is turning on everyone else. Charlie and Cotton discover it is due to an ancient evil trapped beneath the muck and swamp lands waiting for her time to take over the halls and bodies of men. Soon the boys find themselves having to face this evil and decide what to do about it. They are brave and foolish. Just as 12 year old boys are. And it all works together so well. The plot is a reworking of Beowulf, the evil being the mother who is birthing man devouring monsters. She wants to burn the world. It is up to Charlie to stop it. I really appreciated how he had so much assistance though. This is one thing Wilson always does well in his books. In a world of MG and YA novels where adult supervision and assistance are glaringly, sometimes ridiculously, absent, Wilson never abandons his young protagonists to fight their monsters alone. There are always strong, capable, and loving adults there to help. 

The themes explored in this novel are sweeping in scope. For such a short, quick read, the book is brimming with symbolism and thematic greatness. What makes a family, what holding on to the negative aspects of life does to a person, when to stand up for right, having courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and knowing what it is you are living for (so you can know what it is you are willing to die for) are all pulled into Charlie's story. Themes Wilson explores in most of his books, but they all are worth exploring repeatedly and he does it so darn well. There is also a great deal of diversity in the book, a thing we need more of and is always nice to see. Charlie is white, his step-dad is black. I loved how this wasn't a big deal, it just was. They make some jokes about it, but they're jokes that clearly come from a place of comfort and familiarity with each other. A knowledge that they are family no matter.

The imagery and descriptiveness of the book are pretty much perfect. As I read, I felt like I was right there with the boys. I could feel the stifling heat, the burning, the pain. And the words just flow together so well:
The bicycle pegs swayed beneath Charlie's feet. He felt strange moving so quickly while standing so still, like a man on a chariot. Gravel crunched beneath the tires and Cotton's shoulders rocked under his hands. Moonglow loomed on the horizon. or maybe it was the sky-kiss of distant lights. Charlie's skin prickled as night air parted around him. Every bit of him was hungry to feel and to remember.
Florida darkness washed over him, and Charlie Reynolds filled his lungs with it. Maybe he didn't belong in this place, but he belonged in this moment. It smelled like rich earth and hidden water. It smelled like fire.

And if all of this weren't extraordinary enough, Wilson managed to write a small town story that is not over flowing with quirkiness. THANK HEAVENS. 

This line is probably my favorite though because it pretty much sums up the south: Football and church don't cancel for nobody.

Boys of Blur is a book that will be an easy sell for any reader, reluctant or book devourer. Football, monsters, boys who are heroes, the fast pace of the writing, and overall shortness are going to make it a hot commodity. If you know a child buy it for them. If you work with children buy more than one to have on hand. My students love Wilson's books and this is going to send some of the boys into a state of pure bliss. I may get trampled when I book talk it.

I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Random House Books for Young Readers, at ALA Midwinter. Boys of Blur is available for purchase on April 8th. 


Kristen said…
I have this one on my reading pile and it looks really good. So glad you enjoyed it! I'll have to get to it this month now.
Anonymous said…
I got this one in the mail Saturday. I was already super-excited to read it. Now, after reading your review, finishing my current book is going to be difficult.

Brandy said…
It's definitely worth bumping up the pile!
Brandy said…
It's SO GOOD. It's probably better than whatever you're currently reading.

Popular posts from this blog

TTT: Most Recent Additions to My TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly themed blog hop created by  The Broke and the Bookish  and now hosted at  That Artsy Reader Girl . This Week's Topic: Most Recent Additions to My TBR List From Most Recent to Least: What books have recently caught your eye?

Favorite Kissing Scenes

When thinking of a favorite things post I could do for February I decided it would have to be kissing. I've already done couples and I was feeling in the mood to do something fluffy and Valentine's related. So kisses it is. I read more MG than YA, and the YA I read tends to not focus on romance so this was actually harder than I expected it to be though a few jumped into my head right away. (And one of my choices does actually come from a MG book. One is adult. Gasp!) The actual scene from the book is quoted followed by my thoughts. The king lifted a hand to her cheek and kissed her. It was not a kiss between strangers, not even a kiss between a bride and a groom. It was a kiss between a man and his wife, and when it was over, the king closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the hollow of the queen's shoulder, like a man seeking respite, like a man reaching home at the end of the day . - The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner Turner doesn't write the


Shadowshaper  by Daniel José Older is everywhere. Best of lists. Award buzz. Blogs everywhere. It's one of those books everyone is reading and talking about. I had it on my TBR but decided I definitely needed to read it before the year was out just so I could weigh in on one of the most talked about books of 2015 if asked. It is deserving of every good thing said about it. Every. One. Sierra was looking forward to a relaxing summer break. Her plans involved hanging out with her friends and painting. They did not involve being chased by zombie like creatures and threatened by a magical power connected to her family's heritage she has never heard of. When murals begin fading all over her Brooklyn neighborhood, Sierra is perplexed. When her grandfather, who had a stroke, begins to apologize and starts repeating strange phases and insisting Sierra get the help of a boy she barely knows to help her finish her mural, Sierra is concerned but mostly about her grandfather. Then at a

Jinx's Fire

I have been a big fan of Jinx and company from the very first book, which felt like such a perfect Brandy book. The conclusion of Sage Blackwood's trilogy, Jinx's Fire , finished the story beautifully and is definitely my favorite of the three. Spoilers for first two books abound. Read those first: Jinx Jinx's Magic The Urwald is in danger from more than one direction and has no hope of defending itself if there is not unity amongst the people. Jinx, Sophie, Elfwyn, Wendell, and a dedicated group of others are working to make this happen as quickly as they can. Time is running out. At the same time, they are still dealing with the threat of the Bonemaster from within, and the Urwald's magic is fading. Where is it going? Can it be restored? And where has the Bonemaster put Simon? Jinx is the only one who can find the answers to these questions, and harnass the Urwald's power to save them all, but only if he is willing. Jinx has some serious attitude in this

Serafina and the Black Cloak

Serafina and the Black Cloak  by Robert Beatty is a thrilling tale of mystery and adventure set at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC in 1899. Having lived in Asheville and visited the house several times, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to read this. (Also it's MG fantasy, always a bonus for me.) Serafina lives in secret in the basement of the Vanderbilt's spacious vacation home. She has lived there most of her life. Her father worked on the house as it was being built and is the mechanic who runs the massive generator and keeps the electricity going. Serafina is the chief rat catcher, slipping through the halls of her massive home secretly and quietly. She is light on her feet, sees well in the dark, and is quick enough to catch the vermin and keep them out. Serafina knows she if different and strange. Her father insists she stay hidden. But all that changes when one night Serafina witnesses a horrible crime. A little girl, a guest in the house, is fleein