Monday, September 22, 2014

A Murder of Magpies

One for sorrow, 
two for joy.
A destructive girl,
a damaged boy.

Sarah Bromley knows how to create an atmosphere, draw a reader in, and ease them into her grip until they're so firmly in it that they can't break free, even to get some more tea. Her magic is in the details.

A Murder of Magpies is the story of Vayda, a girl whose family is running from a past so horrifying they dare not even use their names, her brother Jonah, who struggles against the power inside him, his ties to his family, and a yearning to fit in, and Ward, a boy whose utterly dysfunctional home life has left him broken on the inside in more ways than one. I found it ironic that throughout A Murder of Magpies, Vayda, who is so much an outsider to the tiny town of Black Orchard, Wisconsin that she'd been there three years without making a real friend, repeatedly pushed Ward away calling him gadjo- outsider.

The use of body language, in and of itself, made this a worthwhile read. Bromley pays keen attention to detail in constructing her story, which is filled with subtle foreshadowing, wonderful relevant glimpses of backstory, and although it spans several states, the cast of characters and locations are kept few enough to infuse them with a wealth of character and detail.

A strength of A Murder of Magpies lies in the way it deals with uncomfortable territory. Two of the strongest themes in the book which will unsettle readers and give them food for thought and conversation are bullying and consent, which is why I recommend it for book clubs, because there is a wealth of conversation material between the covers. A Murder of Magpies explores the boundaries of will and ethics, probing each character's moral fiber, as well as the reader's. Of course, the dialog the reader has with herself is always more telling than the one she would have with a group of people, but I think it would be hard to walk away from this book without having examined their own view of right and wrong a little more closely.

Regarding consent, A Murder of Magpies deals with consent in a wide spectrum of manifestations, from question of sexual consent to other venues in which one's will can be subverted. Bromley treads boldly, but respectfully into uncomfortable territory, and I respect the choice. Moreover, her portrayal of bullying and the violent undertow of an environment that nurtures bullying struck me as important to the culture in which her characters and readers coexist.

I like that the characters she's created are bookish, even if they're not great students or terribly great with authority. I like that because her readers are probably bookish, because heck, they're reading, right? I like that Vayda and Ward could nearly be any of the readers if their lives were just 7% more peculiar. Vayda is easy to relate to without coming off as a hollow character (ahem, Bella Swan), and Ward too feels like he's just a step removed from so many people while remaining an individual. Even the antagonists rise above archetypes, and it makes for a good read.

I was very fortunate to be able to read an ARC of  A Murder of Magpies. I'd gotten my hands on the three chapter teaser in the spring and was desperate to get my hands on the full manuscript. I plan to buy a signed copy for my bookshelf in the near future, like, you know, when it's available to purchase.

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