Of Stanks, Swamps, Cane, and Courage: Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson; Reviewed by Teri S. Lesesne
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested…” Sir Francis Bacon
The prologue opens with this sentence: “When the sugarcane’s burning and the rabbits are running, look for the boys who are quicker than flame.” And ends with this: “There’s quick and there’s dead.” From the first taste of this book, that incredible prologue, to the last delicious bite of an ending that brings the story to a harrowing climax, this slender novel delivers an intense and lyrical read.
Charlie has moved to the small town of Taper, Florida, with his mother and new stepfather. The world of Taper is different from anything he has known before. From the sugar cane industry to the gifted athletes who run through the cane chasing the muck rabbits, it seems as though his new home is a place of magic. But the magic seems a bit sinister, surrounded by secrets of long lost tribes and runaway slaves. And there be monsters here, too.
It takes Charlie a little time to figure out how he will fit into his new home. He has the speed and agility to keep up with his fellow players on the football team. Football seems easy after time spent dodging flames and blade-like stalks as they run through the smoking cane chasing rabbits. Sure, it is a bit dangerous, but the thrill of the chase is, well, thrilling. Charlie senses, though, that there are other things that roam the cane and the banks of the swamp, things more dangerous than the muck rabbits. Everything seems to be connected to the mysterious mounds that dot the town. Will the swamp and the mounds and the cane surrender their secrets? Can Charlie fight against a monster that he cannot quite grasp?
Wilson, known for his Ashtown Burial series, the 100 Cupboard series, as well as Leepike Ridge serves up a slender novel rich in archetypes, steeped in legend and myth, and storytelling that will heighten the suspense of readers who will, like all the readers I have encountered, be unable to put the book down once the covers open to reveal the adventure, the mystery and the horror that lies within. The structure of this splendid book makes it a terrific selection for reading aloud. Pace it just right so that the Friday reading leaves students hanging in suspense over the weekend. Even reading the prologue is a guarantee that readers will snap this book up and pass it along to the other members of their reading communities. And when readers come to you begging for more books just like this, first reply that, “there are no other books just like this.” Then, take pity and offer them Jerry Spinelli’s Hokey Pokey or Days of Little Texas by R. A, Nelson.