Thursday, March 6, 2014

Book Review: "The Weight of Blood" by Laura McHugh

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalleys in exchange for an unbiased review.

Lucy Dane has lived in the small Ozark town of Henbane all her life. She's always felt a bit suffocated by her hometown, always longed for something more, and she can't wait to graduate from high school and leave, in search of more excitement. She's also looking for answers—her young mother, Lila, disappeared when Lucy was just a baby, and no one has ever understood what happened to her, although some of the townsfolk believe that Lila was a witch, the way she enchanted people.

When Lucy's friend Cheri disappears and then is discovered dismembered about a year later, Lucy regrets not being a better friend to the girl, but she also can't stop wondering what might have happened to her. And when she finds something of Cheri's in a surprising place, it sparks her need to find out the truth, no matter what trouble she might dig up. At the same time, she starts trying to figure out the truth behind her mother's disappearance, from those she left behind, and those not as willing to share their thoughts.

"Cheri and Lila, two lost girls, bookends with a lifetime of mysteries between them. And then it occurred to me: If it was possible to find one, why not the other? It couldn't hurt to ask around. Someone out there might know what happened to my mother. It might not be too late to find out."

The Weight of Blood follows Lucy's search for answers, as she turns to her best friend, Bess, and Daniel, a local boy she can't stop thinking about. The book also shifts perspective to Lila when she arrived in Henbane, and the challenges, opportunities, and fears she faced. From time to time, the book also is narrated by other characters in both the past and present, which gives more weight to the story.

This is a really powerful book about the ties of family, how blood is so much stronger than anything else, and it often makes us turn a blind eye to what is in front of us. It's a book about the secrets that weigh on us, those we wish we could tell, and those we know we must carry with us for the rest of our lives. It's also a enormously compelling story about the things that go unsaid, and the actions we're driven to because we don't know the things we should.

Laura McHugh is a terrific writer. She's created a tremendously evocative setting in Henbane that you can truly feel, and her characters don't stoop to the stereotypes you often see in books set in the Ozarks. In some cases these are simple people who have made their lives from virtually nothing, but they're not one-dimensional characters. Both Lucy and Lila's stories are gripping, emotional, and satisfying, and although you probably can guess where the book will lead, the story keeps you hooked, much as Henbane has had its hold on so many throughout the years.

"The Ozarks did have a way of calling folks home, though I'd never thought I would be one of them. All my life I had told myself I didn't belong here. Henbane was a map of the devil, his backbone, eye, and throat, its caves and rivers a geography of my loss. But I hadn't taken into account how a place becomes part of you, claims you for its own. Like it or not, my roots tangled deep in the rocky soil."

I really enjoyed this, and recommend it wholeheartedly.

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