Goodreads: The Boys of Blur
Source: Received from publisher
Published: April 8, 2014
Charlie has never known where he belonged, not with a father who left him and a new stepfather who brought his family to live in a big house that never felt like home. But now his stepfather has returned to the place where he grew up–Taper, Florida, where football is what matters and the boys learn speed by chasing rabbits through the burning sugarcane. Charlie wants to belong here, too, but an ancient evil lurks in the swamps and the only way for him to save the lives of those he loves may be for him to sacrifice his own.
N. D. Wilson consistently defies the expectations associated with middle-grade fantasy. In his latest book, The Boys of Blur, he immediately subverts the genre by introducing not just a main character with a stable, loving family but one who forms part of a racially mixed family. Moments like those, moments when you know the author cares about reaching his or her audience and meeting them wherever they are at, whatever walks of life they are are travelling, are what makes stories special. That was the moment when I knew I was going to love this book.
Wilson actually has a strong track record of avoiding the infamous middle-grade orphan as well as those annoying prevalent “missing” parents. Reading a bunch of books about children with no one to look after them or care for them is rather depressing, not only because I feel terrible for all those unloved children, but also because it suggests in a way that children with parents cannot have adventures. Throw any sort of competent authority figure in the picture and evidently you’re destined for boredom. Wilson’s stories, however, show just the opposite. In his worlds, magic waits around every corner and is free for anyone who comes.
Transporting elements of Beowulf to Florida is, in that sense, a rather genius move. As a young nation, the United States lacks that great sense of depth that makes the magical seem plausible in other settings such as England. However,with a flick of his pen, Wilson creates that magical mythical background for America. Wilson’s may not really reach back to the times of the Anglo-Saxons (though it’s hard to know) but it feels ageless enough to satisfy any young readers who mourned a distinct lack of King Arthurs or Robin Hoods in their own backyards.
And this really is a story for young readers, one of those classic coming-of-age tales where the hero digs deep inside himself to discover what really matters and what it will take for him to be the kind of person he wants to be. As always, Wilson pulls no punches and the truth may be bigger than expected–in this world, love is what matters and the greatest way to show one’s love is to give one’s life. There is a certain amount of respect from Wilson in laying this down that I think his readers will not fail to appreciate. The young, like the old, are called to give of themselves, and Wilson believes they can do it. That they should do it. Perhaps there is nothing so terrible for children as wanting to be needed, wanting to do good and being told they cannot.
These are the types of themes commonly called “universal”, but The Boys of Blur is deliberately set in a very particular place with a very particular cast of characters. This is a story that seems as if it could never be set elsewhere besides the swamps of Florida and the burning sugarcane. There is that much love poured into the setting. You can identify with a character, the story seems to say, but identification has to go beyond noting the similarities into realizing–and celebrating–the differences. Welcome to Taper, Florida. You’ll learn to love it, too.
The Boys of Blur is admittedly rather different from what I have come to expect from Wilson after reading the 100 Cupboards trilogy and the first three books in the Ashtown Burials series. The magic is a little more subtle. The evil somehow darker, more sinister. But the Wilson trademarks–the magical interspersed with the everyday, the heroes learning what “heroic” really means, the strong bonds among family–are all there. And like every Wilson book, this is a journey you want to take.