Title: Boys of Blur
Author: N.D. Wilson
Genre: Middle grade fiction, children’s fantasy
Publisher: Random House
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from the publisher
Number of pages: 208
First line: Out in the muck, where a sea of sugarcane stops and swamps begin, sitting beside a lake bigger than some countries, there is a town called Taper.
When Charlie moves from Palm Beach to the small town of Taper, Florida, he discovers a different world. Pinned between the everglades and the swampy banks of Lake Okeechobee, the small town produces sugar cane . . . and the fastest runners in the country. Kids chase muck rabbits in the fields while the cane is being burned and harvested. Dodging flames and blades and breathing smoke, they run down the rabbits for three dollars a skin. And when they can do that, running a football is easy.
But there are things in the swamp, roaming the cane at night, that cannot be explained, and they seem connected to sprawling mounds older than the swamps. Together with his step-second cousin Herman “Cotton” Mack, the fastest boy on the muck, Charlie hunts secrets in the glades and on the muck flats where the cane grows secrets as old as the soft earth, secrets that haunted, tripped, and trapped the original native tribes, ensnared conquistadors, and buried runaway slaves. Secrets only the muck knows.
I know I’ve talked before about the fiction vs. nonfiction dilemma – the idea that with certain authors, either their nonfiction or their fiction works for me, but not both. I think N.D. Wilson is going to be one of those authors. I really enjoyed his book 100 Cupboards when I read it aloud to the boys, but I was just “meh” about his nonfiction work Death by Living. Because I enjoyed his previous middle grade fiction, I said “yes” to a review copy of his newest children’s novel, Boys of Blur, and I can tell you that I and my two youngest boys are very happy I did.
Wilson grew up reading the fantasy of Tolkien and Lewis, and got the idea that Britain was a magical, mythical land. I remember reading somewhere that he began to wonder why there couldn’t be just as much fantasy and magic in the United States. Boys of Blur is the result of that speculation – and it is a fantastic read. Wilson is a storyteller at heart; he knows how to create atmosphere and tension and emotion and movement. His characters are completely drawn with the fewest words necessary; his settings are the same way. Choosing just the exact words to thrust you into the world of the book is an art form that Wilson has in spades. Because he doesn’t get too wordy, you are left with a beautifully descriptive novel that moves at lightning speed. There were mornings that we quickly read through thirty or forty pages, not wanting to stop, not even noticing how much time was going by because we were so immersed in Charlie’s story.
And what a story! It is full of myth and fantasy and larger than life characters and history that goes deep into the muck. The evil that is converging on Taper is truly wicked, and just the right kind of scary. The Gren and their Mother are chill-inducing villains, and Charlie’s quest to rid Taper of their creeping hatred is the stuff of legends.
One last thing: Charlie’s family is blended and multi-racial, and there is no big deal made of it. After his abusive father was taken away, his mom, Natalie, married Mack, a big, African-American, ex-NFL player. They give Charlie a half-sister. He also gains a bunch of African-American cousins, which is how he gets hooked up with Cotton, his partner in his exploration of the mounds in the muck. I found it refreshing that Wilson dealt with a biracial family without dealing with it – it was simply a fact.