Aug 31, 2011

Review - Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer
September 12th, 2011 from Harcourt Children's Books

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.

You have to admit, the premise for this story is pretty intriguing. Willa's mother left their small Texas town when she was four to escape Willa's abusive father. Now that Willa is 16, she has adjusted to her new life in the burbs. Two stepsisters and a loving stepfather living in a big house seems to be a picture-perfect life. Of course, we know better. Not everything is as it seems, and Willa's picturesque home life is no exception. She has taken to cutting herself to relieve the ongoing stress of making her family happy and keeping up the facade. After her estranged father goes on a murderous rampage, Willa's life starts crumbling, and so do the paper thin walls that are keeping her family together. 

The cutting issue with Willa came as a big surprise to me. It is introduced early on and I really didn't see it coming. It isn't very gruesome and details are short. Willa sees cutting as a relief, something she can control. The book doesn't focus on the act, and Willa tries to control the urges often. This book is all about family dynamics - the give and take that everyone has to go through to make a family work - happy. Unfortunately, Willa always gives(up) and is content to sit on the sidelines and take sloppy seconds from her stepsisters. I was frustrated for Willa. I wanted her to want something, to stand up for herself. Instead, for awhile anyway, we watch her placate everyone and become a wallflower.

Things start to get interesting when we learn that Willa's lunatic father has gone on a murdering spree, killing his second family. I thought Willa and her family were going to go on the run and into hiding, but that didn't happen. The climatic hunt for her father ends early on in the book and very soon - too soon for me. When his rampage is over, Willa makes a decision to go back to Texas and starts to be an active participant in her own life. She finally makes her own choices based on what she thinks is best. This turns the house upside-down and everyone starts to question everything and their role in the family. This is where it gets good and those little skeletons just start tumbling out of the closet!

Willa heads to Texas and lo and behold, more skeletons (and a crotchety grandmother and older half brother). We really start to learn about who Willa really is and what is important to her when she is away from her mother and step-father. We also learn more about her mother, what she left behind, and the impact it had on her parents when she fled with Willa all those years ago.

While Willa is away...all hell breaks loose back home. Finally! I must admit, I wanted something not so great to happen to those step-sisters. It was hard to watch them be lavished with vacations and gifts while poor Willa gets nothing. My dream didn't exactly come true, but we do get to see a more complex side to the step-sisters as time goes on. Even though Willa was mousy and a fraction of what she could be, it was great to see her break through that shell and start using that pretty little head of hers. Many of us will be able to identify with someone in this book, and we can learn a few things from watching this complex family unravel and slowly weave its way back again.

4 Stars

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