What it’s about:
In a quiet Pennsylvania town, a thousand dead starlings fall onto a high school baseball field, unleashing a horrifying and unexpected chain of events that will rock the close-knit community.
Beloved baseball coach and teacher Nate Winters and his wife, Alicia, are well respected throughout town. That is, until one of the many reporters investigating the bizarre bird phenomenon catches Nate embracing a wayward student, Lucia Hamm, in front of a sleazy motel. Lucia soon buoys the scandal by claiming that she and Nate are engaged in an affair, throwing the town into an uproar…and leaving Alicia to wonder if her husband has a second life.
And when Lucia suddenly disappears, the police only to have one suspect: Nate.
Nate’s coworker and sole supporter, Bridget Harris, Lucia’s creative writing teacher, is determined to prove his innocence. She has Lucia’s class journal, and while some of the entries appear particularly damning to Nate’s case, others just don’t add up. Bridget knows the key to Nate’s exoneration and the truth of Lucia’s disappearance lie within the walls of the school and in the pages of that journal.
The Blackbird Season is a rich, gripping thriller set in a small town that is dying a slow death after the major employer, a paper mill, shuts down. The setting adds to the bleakness of everyday life in Mt. Oanake, Pennsylvania. The story is both modern and classic. In some aspects it feels like an old Hitchcock movie, but there are also very current themes such as inappropriate student-teacher relationships. Interestingly the story is written in a third-person narrative with four different points-of-view.
The four main characters tell this dark story, and each of their perspectives gives readers some interesting insight. However, it is unclear if any of these narrators are reliable. Nate, the golden-boy teacher and baseball coach, is accused of having an affair with a student. When she subsequently disappears, he is then suspected of fowl play. His narration is the most suspect. He vehemently denies the affair, but he gets caught in foolish lies. His behavior, including his connection with students on social media, once made people think he was a highly involved teacher; now it makes the same people question his ulterior motives. Alecia, his wife and mother of their autistic child, tells the tale of their home life. Parenting a special needs child is exhausting. Alecia is high strung, and she throws time and money into a myriad of treatments and therapies that mask her denial of her son’s limitations. She paints Nate as a self-absorbed egotist who ignores his responsibilities as a father. In doing so, she inadvertently shows herself as being shrewish and high-strung. Bridget is the “bridge” between Nate and Alecia. She is Nate’s co-worker, and while she steadfastly defends him publicly, she desperately continues to look for proof that he truly is innocent. Bridget is Alecia’s only friend, and both remember fondly their days of couple dating before children. Yet, Bridget appears to have a bit of a crush on Nate–as if she has always longed for his attention, even while her husband was alive. She is one of the most interesting, layered characters in the entire book. The final narrator is Lucia. She is the student with whom Nate is allegedly having a tryst. Is she a neglected daughter and bullied student? Is she a practicing witch, as her classmates claim? Is she victim or villain?
The story layout was very interesting. With each new bit of information revealed by one of the characters, my opinion changed about Nate’s innocence, who might be causing all the problems, and whether or not Lucia had runaway or died. In addition to the use of different POVs to add dimension to the story, the timeline of the story rocks back and forth with the raining of starlings as the fulcrum. Bits of narration happen before or after the town suffers a plague of birds falling from the sky in the middle of the high school baseball game. This very eerie occurrence adds greatly to the creepy feeling of the book, and the event not only puts everyone on edge but it seems to make them more susceptible to irrational thinking. Her classmates call Lucia a witch, and the townsfolk are on a witch-hunt to find Nate guilty of statutory rape and perhaps murder. The inclusion of tarot card reading was interesting only because of the number of times someone dealt a card with a blackbird on it (not only because the town suffered a plague, but also due to Lucia’s obsession with blackbirds). There was insufficient explanation as to why both Lucia and Bridget read tarot cards, so its inclusion in the story didn’t add more than a little reminder about the creepy bird plague.
Overall, I found The Blackbird Season to be a compelling page-turner. It is heavy on the development of characters with interesting backstories and complex relationships. There is enough mystery and twists to keep readers turning pages. The story and setting ooze desperation, bleakness, and the cloying claustrophobia found in a dying town. The short chapters make for easy reading. The secret lives of high school students might be the most frightening aspect of the book!