Blythe Woolston’s newest novel, “Black Helicopters,” asks a seemingly simple question: What makes a terrorist? As she demonstrates, the answer is anything but simple. Frightening and revelatory, the novel explores the complexities of a young terrorist’s motivations.
“I’m Valkyrie White. I’m fifteen. Your government killed my family.” Valkyrie (Valley) White remembers growing up in her family’s picturesque Montana cabin and picking beans in the garden with her mother, Mabby: “When a piece is gone from the game, the whole game changes. That’s how it was for us. Mabby was a really important piece.” With Mabby’s mysterious death, Valley and her brother Bo suddenly find themselves in the sole care of their unhinged father, Da, who holds the government responsible for his wife’s death. Da starts to isolate Valley and Bo from the outside world and convinces them that Those People are coming back. With the death of her mother, Valley’s life is no longer about raising chickens and picking beans in the garden — it’s about survival, building bombs, Da’s lessons, and his mission to wake up the world. Now, eleven years after Mabby’s death, Da dies in a fire. Valley has lost everything and she knows who is responsible — Those People. An intelligent but misguided girl, she finds her purpose in finishing Da’s mission.
“Black Helicopters” reveals the terrifying course of a young, desperate teenager who finds herself in the middle of an identity crisis. Valley’s narration immerses readers in the intricacies of her thoughts and memories. Woolston successfully creates a disturbing world from Valley’s point-of-view: She is a survivor, but, more importantly, a warrior. With the loss of both parents and her childhood home, she finds hope in the one thing she has been raised to believe in, her father’s mission. Woolston does not paint a simple black and white picture, but instead chooses to capture the ambiguities that lie in the psychology and motives of terrorists. The first-person narrative requires readers to sympathize with and, at the same time, distance themselves from Woolston’s lead character. While Valley’s constant tribulations are gut-wrenching, we never truly believe in her mission.
A finalist in the Billings Public Library’s High Plains Book Awards, Black Helicopters takes the reader into the majestic Montana landscape with which we are all familiar, but Woolston inhabits it with a variety of dark, grotesque characters that we hope we will never have the unfortunate chance to meet. Exhilarating, dark and twisted, the fast-paced action makes Woolston’s novel a page-turner. With a bomb strapped to her chest, Valley drives along the vast Montana Highway as readers wait in anticipation to see where and when she will push the trigger.