Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ties of Blood: Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer

I felt the now familiar wave of panic wash over me. It was my punishment for being defiant. If I couldn't be Quiet-Never-Make-A-Fuss Willa, Mom and Jack, Brooke and Alyssa, wanted no part of me.

I couldn't even blame them. Quiet-Never-Make-A-Fuss Willa was gone, replaced by the self-pitying scene-making daughter of a....

I couldn't bring myself to define Budge, to put a label on him. Because whatever he was, I was his daughter and whether I loved him or not, whether I even knew him or not, he was a part of me, so entwined with my body and my soul that he could never be disentangled.

Susan Beth Pfeffer is a fearless writer of fiction, writing about those family relationships where others fear to tread. In her forthcoming Blood Wounds Harcourt, 2011) she goes deep into the weeds of a superficially happy blended family, with a conflicted protagonist who submerges her own feelings to maintain a surface calm and sometimes finds release for her fears only in secretly cutting herself. She watches her own mom subjugate herself and Willa to the needs of stepsisters Brooke and Alyssa, whose wealthy mother provides them with dressage training, tennis lessons, and trips abroad. Willa admits to feeling like a Cinderella sister, taking their unwanted clothes and living a much less opulent life to please her stepfather Jack.

But when Willa's barely remembered biological father Budge suddenly murders his second wife and three little girls and is seen heading toward their hometown, everything changes for Willa and her family. Warned by the police, they flee their house for concealed locations, but when her father is killed by the police staking out her house and one of her half-sisters is found decapitated in his car, Willa is forced to face the importance of that unknown family, struggling to understand how those ties of blood have left wounds on her and her mom which can damage their new family life.

Willa feels compelled to attend the funeral of her little sisters in Pryor, Texas. Suddenly Willa finds a family there, a failed family to be sure, but one that recognizes her as "all Coffey," one to which she realizes she is bound by blood and circumstance, and one which strangely helps her see the lack of honesty in her current family. Blood binds and blood wounds, but it also is the source from which she comes, and with her new understanding Willa is able to help her blended family see beyond their assumed roles to the real people beneath them.

Part thriller, part psychological drama, part coming-of-age novel, Pfeffer's latest is an honest and solid look at one family, like all families unique, at a critical turning point in their lives together. Young adult readers will find this a page turner, but will also find much to think about in Blood Wounds. As Publishers Weekly has said, "This intense psychological drama, showing the brightest and darkest sides of humanity, offers remarkable acts of courage and disturbing images of domestic violence. Willa's frankly portrayed grief, confusion, and uncertainties will have a strong impact on readers."

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