Wednesday, September 7, 2011

REVIEW: Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Blood Wounds
by Susan Beth Pfeffer (website)
Releases on 09.12.2011
256 pages
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books (website)
Source: received on loan from Banned Book Tours
Read the first two chapters here.

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 (from GoodReads).

REVIEW: Willa's life in the beginning is awesome.  A freaking holy grail of a blended family.  Particularly with her stepfather, Jack, and his ex-wife, there seemed to be a real sense of 'do what's best for the girls', the 'girls' being Willa's two stepsisters.  I was actually really happy to see that kind of compatibility for a blended family happen in a book.  Made me think it could be real.  

Too bad it was a setup. 

Blood Wounds, in case you can't tell by the mugshot cover, is not a happy times book.  In fact, I'm surprised that Willa is Miss Mugshot on the cover, because frankly, she's one of two, maybe three, characters who acted with any decency, and the other two were minor characters.  Unless the mugshot is supposed to represent how she consistently gets trapped and bullied by the horrible selfishness of her family.  And for the record, her family is a great big ball of 'you people suck', and that goes for both her blended family and the one she never knew on her biological dad's (and mom's) hometown of SmallTown, Texas.  There is a lot going on in this book, but most of it is undercurrent until about halfway and then it steadily reveals itself all the way through to the end.  You will not get what this book is really about from the synopsis - I thought I'd be reading a book about a girl and her mom on the run from her crazy father for the entire book, with Willa learning family secrets from her mom and facing hard truths along the way.  While they do go into hiding for a short section and while Willa does do the latter in a sense, it's not in the way you think it'll happen.  It's much more about Willa making her peace with a family she never knew, finding her own voice within the family she grew up in, and trying to figure things out by confronting the her mother's past and the facade of perfection that her blended family exudes. 

The plot is steady the whole way through.  There is a moment of anxiety when the cops show up at Willa's house and no one seems to know where her mom is; but otherwise, the plot is pretty even keel and flows on a diet of Willa coming to terms with who her parents are/were, and how she fits into the many family dynamics she has to contend with.  You may have noticed my temper flare a wee little bit in the paragraph above.  That's because I really do not like her blended family.  I get family loyalty, but there was this sneaky sense of, "If you really love me, you'll do things my way" that was always present in conversations and influencing actions.  For the record, such emotional manipulations are not 'love'; they are bulls%$#.  In particular, I really don't like Willa's mother.  To be fair, I didn't really dislike her until the end, and she's an extremely complex person.  Actually, I wouldn't mind reading an 'adult' fiction novel with her as the protagonist.  As much as I didn't like her, she's seemed to have had a difficult life caused both by her own crappy decisions, as well as consequences beyond her control.  I feel like her story and own 'coming-of-age' could be just as significant as Willa's, I didn't really see her come full circle.  Truthfully?  I'm predicting splitsville for her and Jack.  I feel like their entire family was based on a pyramid scheme of emotional usury. 

I read the entire book pretty quickly, it flowed at a steady pace, and Willia has a decent voice.  I really admired who she became at the end of the book.  She really handled herself, and if she were real, she'd grow up to be someone you'd be proud to know.  However, Blood Wounds wasn't a stellar read for me.  This is a tough review for a book with tough issues, but there was something 'off' for me.  Typically, I L-O-V-E a good 'issues' book.   Blood Wounds has decent writing, but there was a little too much crazy in the plot for me to handle.  I really wish it had either been about just Willa coming to terms with what her father had done and the family she never knew -OR- had been about her blended family situation (and her unhealthy way of dealing with it).  There was certainly enough dysfunction to support the latter.  I think in the end, Willa had so much dysfunction in her life that it made be feel like there was no support for her or the book itself.  I need a little hope or some redemption with my stories, and in the end, I just don't feel like I had enough give me that.

This one didn't work for me, but here are two bloggers who did like it - be sure to check out Jen's review at I Read Banned Books and Melissa's at i swim for oceans.


"And then there was Jack with his college degree, a career he loved, two remarkable daughters, and an ex-wife rapidly rising up the corporate ladder.

Mom had a high-school diploma, a brother in a cult, a violent ex-husband named Budge, and parents who died from drunk driving.

For the first time in days, I felt something there than resentment and anger.  I felt sorry for Mom, sorry for where she'd come from and what she didn't have."
-page 118

"'I never saw anyone cry like you did today, ' Faye said.  'It was like you were crying for the whole world."
page 160 

"Faye snorted.  'Families my ass,' she said.  'Families fight.  Wives fight.  They don't just say 'Yes, Jack.  Whatever you think, Jack.'"
page 162


  1. Thanks for a great, honest review, Linds. Just by reading the excerpt, I knew this book wasn't for me. I'm a bit surprised that the author didn't take the directions that you had indicated, perhaps it was too easy to go in that direction? I don't know. Love disguised as manipulation is something that drives me up a wall. While not for me as a reader, I think people who like gritty, realistic fiction might like this one.

  2. Jack is just EVIL. He's the worst kind of EVIL because no one knows just how EVIL he is.....

    Makes me sad because I feel there are a lot of families (blended or otherwise) dealing with this type of character.

  3. @Rummanah - yeah, this might be good for some, but not for me. I really love gritty contemps, but . . . I don't know there just was this sense that the only way that things would get better for Willa is if she distances herself from her family. It was so, so sad. I think her mom truly tired to do what's best by her, but the way she behaved towards the end and towards her husband really showed true colors and that she wasn't as Miss Do What's Best for the Team as we were led to believe. Coming from a 'broken' home myself, the way they treated each other, and smoke in mirrors, the emotional manipulation - it really made me sick.

    @Annette - YEP. He's evil, and I think Willa's mom totally used the marriage to be 'safe' in life. Once she thought she had an out, she revealed the her true character - the whole situation was so . . . you know? Dr. Phil would have a field day with this whole thing.


  4. Awesome and honest review! I'll go check out the others before I put this one on my list. Thanks!

  5. I've been so curious about this one because I loved Susan Beth Pfeffer's The Last Survivors series. But sounds like with this one she threw every 'dysfunctional family' plot device into a pot and called it a meal. I'm still interested in what you mentioned about Willa's character development and her coming to terms. Also, it's pretty notable when you say that you wouldn't mind reading a book about the mom. Must be something about her.

    Very helpful review, Linds. As always, I appreciate your candor. :)

  6. "I need a little hope or some redemption with my stories, and in the end, I just don't feel like I had enough give me that."

    Me too! I like dark books and books that deal with issues, but I need that little bit of silver lining to help me get through it. If I don't have that, I struggle:)

  7. 'I feel like their entire family was based on a pyramid scheme of emotional usury. '

    THIS! A million times THIS!!

    Seriously, Blood Wounds was not a good read for me at all. I mean, it was fast and all, BUT I felt such a disconnect with their characters and there was so much going on with the cutting, the family crap, the murders, it was very jack of all trades master of none, and well I prefer some mastery in what I read!

    Awesome review!!

  8. @Angie - thanks! If you do read it, let me know what you think.

    @Missie - This was my first SBP. I've heard great things about her previous books, but eh, what can I say? This one took Daddy-issues to whole other level. Things like this DO happen, but in the end, I walked away feeling really bad for Willa rather than hopeful for her. There were too many crappy things done in this one to make me thing the fam was going to come together and kum-by-ya away from this. People can change, but this would be one hell of long road to walk, and there is too much opportunity for people to walk away for them to stick it out. Wow, forgive my long lil soliloquy there.

    @Jenny - Me too! I know this isn't always how it happens IRL, but I if I am going to indulge in fiction, I need that, even if it's faint. I do think she tried to convey a sense of that in this, but by the time it happened, so many people had acted in such a horrid way, I just had no faith in that sense.

    @April - Yeah, WAY too much going on. To be fair, this is likely how it happens for real - you don't notice all the 'ignorable' problems (yes, I made up that word) until a major one comes along and trips the wire. But, I just couldn't deal with it all in one book.


  9. Too bad this didn't work for you. It also sounds a little dark for my tastes. I agree that it's hard to deal with a book when the plot gets a little too crazy.

  10. I was super excited to see your review of this in my feed. I read her Last Survivors books but had really no clue what this one is about. I was hoping that maybe you'd read those other ones to make a comparison but I see from the comments that you haven't. Oh well--you were still absolutely helpful. And I love that you called her family a pyramid scheme of emotional usury. Perfect. I'm still gonna give it a go. Thanks for reviewing it!

  11. @Alison - Usually, I love issue books, even if they are dark, but this one, eh, I do think the author tried to end it on a hopeful note, but unfortunately, I think it was a case of 'too late' for me because there was SO much that had happened before.

    @Flannery - I haven't read those, but I typically try very hard not to compare an author's various works unless they are books in the same series. I just feel that a book has to stand on its own, and that comparing it with previous works for review reason creates a sort of fallacy. I hope you do read this one - I am looking forward to your thoughts on it!


  12. Bummer that the book was more frustrating than entertaining and so many characters were unlikeable. I usually love stories about families imploding, but might wait a while before picking this one up now.

    Thanks for the honest review!


  13. Thanks for linking me up. I did like it, but it was nothing like I thought it would be. I wanted to see a huge cat and mouse chase...


  14. Ya... This book was a whole big lot of fail for me. It is one of the worst books I read this year, that I actually finished. Terrible characters (and not in the-you are a bad person but super well written way either) terrible storyline, horrid representation/description of mental process etc. Le sigh.

    It's SO disappointing to me when a book is just SO much the meh as this one.