Monday, July 28, 2014

Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson

It takes a heroic writer to pull together characters and plot filled with zombies, football heroes, sugarcane harvesting, domestic abuse and link it into a gripping story that echoes Beowulf. Then there is the fist-bump writing itself. Swollen with seemingly disparate topics and ripe with terrific rhythms, word choices, and action - it swallows the reader like the Florida swampland Charlie suddenly finds himself in at the start of the novel. Mack's football coach has died and Charlie is at the funeral with his stepdad Mack, his mom, and his stepsister. His mom is afraid that her abusive ex-husband who lives in Taper might stir up their violent past. Mack decides to temporarily accept the newly vacated football coaching job and Charlie isn't sure how he feels about it. When cousin Cotton takes Charlie on an adventure in the sugarcane showing him a mysterious stone littered with dead animals, a tall man with a helmet and sword steps out of the swamp scaring the two like rabbits fleeing from burning sugarcane. This ambitious work pulls off most of what it sets out to do for a satisfying adventure that I know my students will be gung-ho over reading.

This appears at first to be a realistic story before quickly morphing into something quite fantastical. Charlie's dad and stepdad were football heroes at their high school going on to play in college and professionally. Charlie's dad made poor choices and ended up in jail while Mack, Charlie's stepdad, made wiser choices with his life. Mack reminds me of Hrothgar in Beowulf as he offers Charlie wise advice modeling how to not be angry with his biological dad. "Your father made mistakes. We all do. But instead of working to set things right, he chose to protect those mistakes-he let them be." He goes on to tell him to overcome those mistakes and focus on his strengths; the strengths he received from his father such as toughness, easy laughter, and fleet-footedness. When Charlie decides to forgive his dad, it has been nurtured to some extent by Mack and echoes his wisdom. And Charlie isn't the only character that learns to forgive. This message of redemption applies to others as well in the novel.

When the Gren or zombies sent by the swamp-hag show up, it's hard not to make Beowulf comparisons. Just as Grendel in Beowulf terrorized King Hrothgar's hall, so the Gren terrorize the sugarcane fields of Taper. A battle ensues and a quest to kill the swamp-hag is tackled by heroes.  In Beowulf, the heroic code is strength, courage, and honor which is also portrayed in Charlie, Cotton, Mack, Lio, Natalie, Sugar, and Bobby. Even the ripped off arm in Beowulf shows up in the ripped off arm of a Gren with toxic blood. Charlie does not have to save Cotton but does so because it is the right or honorable thing to do. The football team learns the heroic code by having to collect 10 rabbits and face a sugarcane harvest fire using speed and courage. How the heck the author came up with that idea and managed to connect it to Beowulf in an understandable way is truly the creative process in full swing.  Don't miss this one.

5 Smileys

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