The Weight of Blood, by Laura McHugh (2014)

Genre: Mystery
Interest Level: Adult
The Weight of BloodThis is the story of two girl-women who disappear in the Ozark town of Henbane, 16 years apart. Lucy’s mother disappeared when her baby, now 17 years old, was just a year old. Lucy is raised by her father Carl, and equally loved by her uncle Crete and her neighbours Birdie and Gabby. Her best friend is Gabby’s daughter Bess, but she is also friendly with Cheri, who has Down’s syndrome. When Cheri disappears too, Lucy is pained by her friend’s unexplained departure. She suspects something has happened, but everyone else considers her a runaway. Time passes and Lucy thinks less about the mystery – until Cheri’s poor body turns up, cut into pieces. This is the story of how blood binds a community, not just the blood of kin, but the blood of sin. The narrative switches perspectives and time, as we slowly learn what brought Lucy’s mother Lila to Henbane, and how she fell in love, and in trouble. In seeking to solve the mystery of Cheri’s death, Lucy learns more about her mother and how she affected those around her, despite being a stranger, and often because of that. As Birdie tells Lucy, “You grow up feeling the weight of blood, of family. There’s no forsaking kin. But you can’t help when kin forsakes you or when strangers come to be family” (p. 266). This is also the story of how women, and especially girls, are commodified, cheaper today than in the days of slavery, as one character briefly notes. Henbane is well named in this first novel by McHugh, who renders the setting beautifully. She compares the humid southern summer to living in a sponge, and describes two teens conversing idly on a porch while distractedly removing ticks from a dog’s coat. The plot is tightly developed and well paced, with superb characterization and dialogue. A terrific first novel and I’ll be watching for more.
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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