Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Publication Date: September 12, 2011

Willa is lucky: She has a loving blended family that gets along. Not all families are so fortunate. But when a bloody crime takes place hundreds of miles away, it has an explosive effect on Willa’s peaceful life. The estranged father she hardly remembers has murdered his new wife and children, and is headed east toward Willa and her mother.

Under police protection, Willa discovers that her mother has harbored secrets that are threatening to boil over. Has everything Willa believed about herself been a lie? As Willa sets out to untangle the mysteries of her past, she keeps her own secret—one that has the potential to tear her family apart.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

People seem to very strong feelings about this book.  I was looking at the reviews on Goodreads before I read it, and I was quite surprised; people really loved it, or really, really hated it.  I was kind of in between, but leaning toward loved...

I get that fans of Susan Beth Pfeffer's Last Survivors series (Life As We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, This World We Live In) got something from her that is totally different from what they are used to.  This book is a HUGE departure from those books.  Anyone who went into it expecting something along the lines of those books, would be disappointed.  No doubt.  That said, most of the negative reviews I read were along the lines of, "I loved Life As We Knew It and this book was nothing like it and not what I expected, and the synopsis was misleading, and it wasn't what I expected, so it sucked." (That would be me paraphrasing, just to clarify.)  I don't think the synopsis was misleading; vague maybe, but it piqued my interest, so it did its job.  Also, it did not suck.  In the slightest.

This book was an intense, emotional roller-coaster.  Willa is a member of a perfect blended family.  Personally, I never encountered a perfect family of any kind (there's always the odd nutjob or skeleton), so I knew there was more to this story.  Add to that that Willa and her step-sisters have such vastly different lifestyles and opportunity, despite the fact that they all live under the same roof; any idiot can see that just isn't going to work; the left-out kid is going to have issues with that, even if they say otherwise... A lot of family drama unfolds in this book.  Yes, the tragedy involving Willa's biological father that is mentioned in the synopsis kicks it all off, but it was always bubbling there, just under the surface, waiting for a trigger.  This story is not about the tragedy itself.  This story is about self-discovery, standing up for yourself when you can change things, and accepting the things you can't.  It's about being who you are, even if it's not what everyone expects you to be.

At first, I didn't like Willa much.  I had very little respect for her that she couldn't stand up for herself and make her voice heard.  As the story progressed, I realized she was taught to be that girl, and was not given a choice out of fear.  As she came out of her shell, I began to not only like her, but admire her.  She shouldered so much in her short life, and she never understood that she shouldn't have had to.  The supporting characters were relatively unimportant to me; their histories were important to the story, but getting to know them really didn't matter.  Think of it like this, Abraham Lincoln was as important to the history of the United States as anyone, but to grasp that, we don't need to know him as a person.  That's how I felt about the people surrounding Willa- this was HER story.

The best part about this story was that I never really knew what to feel.  I think that the feelings I was feeling embodied what Willa was going through.  She really wasn't sure how to feel either.  She was so numb for so long that it took something so tragic and horrible and unthinkable to get her to allow herself to hurt again, and once that happened it was like a dam opening up.  With the emotional aspect of this book, Susan Beth Pfeffer did a phenomenal job of making me experience the same emotions as the protagonist, at the same time.  At the beginning, I didn't care about Willa; I was totally indifferent.  I grew with her though, and in the end felt a connection to her.  It isn't difficult to write a character into a situation that makes you feel sorry for her, but it takes talent to make you feel the emotions AS her.

This book was very good.  It isn't my favorite of her books, and I did expect a little more.  It felt rushed at times, and I felt like it was too short, but overall, I think it was very well done.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  There are some mature themes like cutting and domestic abuse in this book.  It is also extremely graphic in its descriptions of the crimes committed and the aftermath.  I think it's fine for kids grades 8 and up (ages 13+), and possibly mature kids in 6th and 7th grade, but I would not give this to any student who especially sensitive, at any age.


  1. I've noticed too that it's really love/hate with this one! Your review is awesome though and makes me really want to read it. I already had my eye on it.

    Xpresso Reads

  2. Very insightful review, as usual. I think you got this book in the same way I did. I enjoyed the character growth and strengthening--of the mother too. Very interesting book.


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