12 year old Charlie Taylor and his family return to the small sugar cane town of Taper in the Florida swamps, for the funeral of his stepfather’s high school football coach. Charlie and his newly discovered cousin, Cotton, take off into the cane fields where they come across a mysterious man with a helmet and sword, flanked by two panthers. When Cotton disappears later, Charlie ventures back into the swamp to find out and destroy what is plaguing Taper.
There’s lots to like about Boys of Blur. First off, it’s not only short, it’s a stand alone with no cliff hanger ending to make you wait for the sequel. That might sound a bit backhanded, but, truly, it’s great to have such a nimble read with no sagging in the middle, while characters angst over something to fill up more pages.
I also love that this is about boys and their families, and Charlie ends up with a spectacular family: “two half brothers, one half sister, one step-second cousin, three moms, one former foster mother and two stepdads.” They are strong people, who have endured abuse, sadness and loss, but they have made good choices and decisions to get to a kinder place, and they support each other.
The cover, and the Prologue, about the “boys who are quicker than flame” work elegantly together to create a mood and a tension. The gather-round-the-fire cadences of this short section set up the story, and introduce an element of chill: “There’s quick and there’s dead.”
And the setting is evocative: Taper is a small town “out in the muck, where a sea of sugarcane stops and swamps begin.” High school football is part of the pulse of this town, along with the rivalry that goes with it. Charlie’s connection to two of the area’s most prestigious players puts him in the spotlight – everyone wants to know “You got any speed?”
But I really stumbled with the fantasy element: It’s so complicated and seems so random – why here? why now? There are references to Beowulf – and for readers who don’t know about Grendel, Cotton mentions the epic poem a couple of times as a hint to us – but it’s not a re-telling, so I don’t feel it makes the lore any clearer. The Beowulf connections actually seem pretty light – for example, as far as I can tell (from my reading of the Wikipedia entry and recollection of the 2007 movie with Angelina Jolie!) Grendel’s mother doesn’t make zombies – though it may spark enough of an interest in a middle grade reader to at least look at the graphic novel version.
What I really wanted this book to be, was more about Charlie’s real life situation, which seems a very rich vein to mine, and less about being chased by the odiferous undead around the cane fields.