Black Helicopters

Overview

A teenage girl. A survivalist childhood. And now a bomb strapped to her chest. See the world through her eyes in this harrowing and deeply affecting literary thriller.

I’m Valkyrie White. I’m fifteen. Your government killed my family.
Ever since Mabby died while picking beans in their garden — with the pock-a-pock of a helicopter overhead — four-year-old Valley knows what her job is: hide in the underground den with her brother, Bo, while Da is...

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Black Helicopters

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Overview

A teenage girl. A survivalist childhood. And now a bomb strapped to her chest. See the world through her eyes in this harrowing and deeply affecting literary thriller.

I’m Valkyrie White. I’m fifteen. Your government killed my family.
Ever since Mabby died while picking beans in their garden — with the pock-a-pock of a helicopter overhead — four-year-old Valley knows what her job is: hide in the underground den with her brother, Bo, while Da is working, because Those People will kill them like coyotes. But now, with Da unexpectedly gone and no home to return to, a teenage Valley (now Valkyrie) and her big brother must bring their message to the outside world — a not-so-smart place where little boys wear their names on their backpacks and young men don’t pat down strangers before offering a lift. Blythe Woolston infuses her white-knuckle narrative, set in a day-after-tomorrow Montana, with a dark, trenchant humor and a keen psychological eye. Alternating past-present vignettes in prose as tightly wound as the springs of a clock and as masterfully plotted as a game of chess, she ratchets up the pacing right to the final, explosive end.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
This brief but razor-sharp novel from Woolston (Catch & Release) is as unpredictable as the bomb strapped to the chest of the girl at its center, 15-year-old Valkyrie White...The ambiguities and of-the-moment realism of Woolston’s story muddy the lines between right and wrong, while giving provocative insight into the mindset of those who see modern government as an unnecessary evil.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

A chilling exploration of the life, motivations and strategies of a young American suicide bomber...Harrowing and unforgettable.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

BLACK HELICOPTERS is that quite remarkable event: a pace-perfect, pitch-perfect thriller that is exquisitely written and deeply thought provoking.
—Tim Wynne-Jones, author of Blink & Caution, a Boston Globe—Horn Book Award winner

This novel wrapped its icy hand around my heart and dragged me in. Admirably restrained, peculiarly fluent, and scary as hell, I read BLACK HELICOPTERS straight through and immediately told everybody I knew about it.
—Ron Koertge, author of Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses

The tension doesn't let up for a minute in this startling, terrifying story. It pulls you along like a rampaging river, then sucks you under.
—Ellen Wittlinger, author of Hard Love, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Blythe Woolston is a master of the unexpected. In BLACK HELICOPTERS, Woolston has given us part gripping literary mystery and part heart-racing psychological thriller. Suspenseful, dark and touching this is another winner from Woolston.
—A.S. King, author of Everybody Sees the Ants and Please Ignore Vera Dietz, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Publishers Weekly
This brief but razor-sharp novel from Woolston (Catch & Release) is as unpredictable as the bomb strapped to the chest of the girl at its center, 15-year-old Valkyrie White. Raised in isolation in remote Montana, Valkyrie was four years old when her mother was killed tending the garden after black helicopters passed overhead. She and her brother are brought up by their father, who believes in being a free and free-thinking person, and who is happy to deliver violent messages for a price, such as targeting an “activist” judge. It’s a path that, following more tragedies, finds Valkyrie dressed as an ordinary girl, an explosive hidden beneath her hoodie, riding in a U-Haul truck headed out into the world. Valkyrie makes every word count in her narration, which makes sense coming from a girl who grew up with such rules as “Never waste an opportunity to conserve resources.” The ambiguities and of-the-moment realism of Woolston’s story muddy the lines between right and wrong, while giving provocative insight into the mindset of those who see modern government as an unnecessary evil. Ages 14–up. Agent: Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Children's Literature - Kasey Giard
She heard the sound of the black helicopters approaching the day Mabby died. Since then, Valley and her big brother Bo have been hiding and waiting for their Da to come home. Staying out of sight because you never know when Those People will show up again. Valley wants to help. Da sends messages to Those People, ones they will not forget. Ticking packages that make Them listen. But Da is gone now, and it is only Valley and Bo. Bo is forgetting. Only Valley remembers what Da said. Only Valley sees the bigger game. She will make Those People listen to her message. With one flick of her finger, they will feel her pain, her terror, and never forget. Indoctrinated from her youth, all Valley knows of the world is that it is not safe. Life is carefully controlled by an elusive group who will shoot down anyone who tries to live outside their ways. The black helicopters will come. She marches along a dark path, fraught with poverty and abuse, determined to continue in her father's footsteps. To destroy the world her enemies have created and make her voice and her story heard. Woolston creates a haunting tale of misery and paints the humanizing but tragic story of a girl whose life prepares her for only one fate: to become a suicide bomber. Readers who enjoyed Impulse by Ellen Hopkins or Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher will enjoy this novel. Reviewer: Kasey Giard
VOYA - Rachelle David
This novel is tedious and rather disappointing. Attempting to comment on the horrors of society and government, Woolston just created a boring plot of dissatisfaction and confusion. The reading level is low for the adult-type content. The author clearly struggled, and ultimately resorted to adding prostitution, an unnecessary addition, which could have been used to make the story more interesting and impactful—but did not. Reviewer: Rachelle David, Teen Reviewer
VOYA - Ed Goldberg
Eleven years ago, when Valley was four, her mother died in the backyard garden while a black helicopter flew overhead. Ever since, her father, Da, a supplier of small bombs to radical groups, has ingrained in her and her older brother, Bo, that the helicopters—controlled by "Those People" (the government)—are bad. He has them train for the day they will inform the ignorant populace of the dangers of Those People. They live on rations, hide in an underground bunker, run missions, and learn his trade. A year ago, Bo and Val returned from a training mission to find their home in flames, supposedly caused by Those People. Da is presumed dead but has planned for this eventuality by recording instructions for them on their computer. They flee, following the instructions, to a safe haven that proves to be not so safe. Bo and Val are forced to flee again, always keeping Da's mission in mind. Black Helicopter is a short, quick read. The writing is average, the story line unusual. This reader, however, failed to see the point of the story. Is it that naive youth can be influenced by a radical, lunatic parent? Is it that radical groups have delusions? Is it something other than the above? There is little character development, there is little excitement, and there is a gratuitous rape scene. The time and place are not made apparent—possibly on purpose? Whatever the purpose, this reader would not buy this for a teen collection. Reviewer: Ed Goldberg
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Valley and Bo's orders from their father were very clear: if they hear or see a helicopter, they are to run and hide. The rest of the country does not believe that the government is killing American citizens, but Valley and her family do. That's why her father came up with a plan to wake up the rest of the country. But something went wrong, and the black helicopters killed him. The story is told in alternating chapters from when they were with their father, then on their own, and, finally, living with a group of young terrorists who base their faith on Norse mythology. The richness of this book lies within the characters Valley and Bo meet across the Montana landscape, such as a group of young girls smuggled into Canada after being impregnated, and Eric, the teen whom Valley takes hostage to complete her final mission. Valley is smart and committed although misguided. This is a fast-paced story that builds suspense till the abrupt ending that will leave readers guessing whether or not Valley succeeded. This is a good book to recommend to teens who enjoy reading about the strange underbelly of society.—Erik Carlson, White Plains Public Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews
A chilling exploration of the life, motivations and strategies of a young American suicide bomber. Valkyrie (née Valley) White is on a mission to wake up everyone. Her statement of purpose recorded and media-ready, she departs the survivalist camp where she and her brother Bo live, but when her driver detonates their truck bomb too early, Valkyrie sets off on her own to complete the mission. Through brief chapters alternating between the past and present, readers learn about Valley and Bo's childhood in Montana's backwoods, where their Da trained them to be self-sufficient and deeply wary of the world outside their land. After Valley and Bo's mother, Mabby, dies in what they believe was a black-helicopter attack authorized by Those People in the government, Da insists that the children learn paramilitary and bomb-building skills along with chess and how to read. In the present, Valkyrie uses Da's lessons to manipulate a teenage boy into driving to an opportune place for her to detonate her vest. Woolston's slow, tense revelation of the full horror of what the adults in Valkyrie's life have wrought in and through her is breathtaking. Readers who may have previously associated suicide bombers with religious fanaticism will be fascinated by Valkyrie's totally secular but equally single-minded devotion to anti-government rhetoric and revenge. Harrowing and unforgettable. (Fiction. 14-18)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763671716
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 8/4/2015
  • Pages: 176
  • Age range: 14 years

Meet the Author

Blythe Woolston’s first novel, The Freak Observer, won the William C. Morris debut fiction award. She lives in Billings, Montana.

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