Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston; Candlewick Press, 166 pages ($15.99). Ages 12 and up.
This disturbing, compelling short novel holds you in its grip and never lets go. Valkyrie White, 15, has been raised to fear “those people” and the “black helicopters” that killed her mother, then, apparently, her Da. With Da gone, Valkyrie and brother Bo have their instructions. When Bo falls short, Val will complete the mission alone if she must. Woolston, who won the William C. Morris Debut Fiction award for “The Freak Observer,” says she was pondering what would make a person become a suicide bomber “a terrible choice - a terrorist’s choice - but also the choice of a human being with a mind and a heart and a life before that moment.” Woolston makes us see the world from Val’s point of view, a world where one is ever-vigilant, where one must follow the plan, where anyone who gets in the way is just so much collateral damage. This is a chilling, thought-provoking tale.
– Jean Westmoore
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill; William Morrow (704 pages, $28.99)
It’s ironic that “NOS4A2,” the book that will in all likelihood be Joe Hill’s breakthrough to superstardom, is also the first book in which he’s gone all-in with acknowledging his way-above-average literary genes.
Hill, 40, uses a shortened version of his middle name (Hillstrom) and for several years didn’t tell anyone he was the son of Stephen King. Hill “came out” in 2007.
By then, he had already received awards for his short stories and had won the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for his collection, “20th Century Ghosts.” Two novels followed, “Heart-Shaped Box” in 2007 and “Horns” in 2010. While those contained elements of horror and fantasy, they were heavily symbolic examples of those genres, mostly bereft of the down-and-dirty terror of most of King’s work. Not so with “NOS4A2,” whose vampire-referencing title is the vanity license plate of its villain, Charles Talent Manx.
A ghastly, not-quite-human specter with a vile sense of humor, Manx trolls for children in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith and then spirits them away to an “amusement park” called Christmasland, where every day is Christmas and unhappy thinking is simply not tolerated. It’s an overly decorated holiday phantasm, complete with evil elves, teeth dripping blood and gore, and everything twisty and convoluted, as though seen in a funhouse mirror.
Hill is very much his own writer, at least as talented as King and a smidge more literary in his approach. He takes his time building to the epic horror that awaits in the book’s final third.
– Joy Tipping, Dallas Morning News