Admittedly, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to review literature for kids. The occasional YA novel? Sure. Most of what I read for review, however, falls firmly within the “not marketed to kids” category (since “adult” means something else here). This review may expose some of my weaknesses when it comes to this particular field, as N.D. Wilson’s Boys of Blur is certainly embedded in a tradition about which I am not as familiar as I should be. Regardless, I will tread honestly here in hopes that I can offer some insight into this particular novel.
Boys of Blur takes place in my state of residence: Florida. Specifically, it is set in the fictional town of Taper (near “Muck City,” a.k.a. Belle Glade), deep in the everglades, where nature is often stranger than the people that live there. That’s certainly true of this novel. When Charlie and his family visit Taper for a funeral, his stepfather, Mack, is offered the head coaching job at the local high school, which at one time was known for its fair share of decent players. But Taper is a place of worry and concern for Natalie, Charlie’s mother, who left Taper after divorcing Charlie’s abusive father, Bobby; it also holds worry for Charlie, too: after befriending his cousin, Cotton, Charlie discovers something wicked living and growing in the swamps. Something evil. Something that wants to take Taper for itself. And it might just be up to Charlie to stop it before “it” and Taper’s residents tear themselves apart.
That said, there is one main concern I had with Boys of Blur. While the narrative deals explicitly with domestic abuse from the perspective of a child, I think Wilson does so by limiting a deeper discussion of that issue. In particular, the book itself provides little in the way of a resolution for this element, almost as though Charlie should have been too young to understand what has already transpired between his father, Bobby, and his mother, Natalie. But Charlie is twelve and seems to understand what has happened in his family, even if he was too little to understand when his parents had divorced. In the end, no significant conversation is had about Bobby, who is undeniably a violent abuser who has shown no real reform, and his involvement in his son’s life, despite the fact that Bobby appears to threaten Natalie in the novel. Charlie does take a stand against Bobby, and the novel try to address the issue, but this is brief and largely forgotten. If Wilson intended the concluding moments to be one of “going to bed with one’s enemy to conquer a greater foe,” then he needed to do so with a more deft hand; likewise, if he intended these other mentions of Bobby’s past and his abusive nature to be either partially redemptive or even an attempt to nuance an abuser, I think he missed the mark entirely. Here, I think the novel does more to reinforce domestic abuse as “not a big deal” than it does to address a child’s perspective on such things.
Overall, I quite enjoyed Boys of Blur. Though the novel has a few problems in terms of its representation of controversial subjects, it is an easy and fairly gripping read. From its spine-tingling creepiness to its Beowulf-ian nature, this is a book that young kids will certainly enjoy.
Side note: this is the first Florida-based book I have read that really captured what Florida feels like to someone who hasn’t lived there their whole life. A bonus for anyone worried the setting will alienate readers (nope).
: Itself an adaptation of a Michael Crichton book.
: Admittedly, Bobby does come off as creepy as the supernatural creatures Charlie is forced to fight. I’m just not convinced that the novel intended this as a metaphor for the distance between father and son (due to former abuse). Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, though.