Laura McHugh is garnering lots of attention with her debut novel, The Weight of Blood. (And it's all good!)
Seventeen year old Lucy Dane was born in the Ozark mountain town of Henbane, but has never been fully accepted by the community. Although her father is a native son, her mother Lila was an outsider, with rumours and suspicions constantly being whispered about her. Lucy doesn't remember her - she disappeared when she was a toddler.
Other people have disappeared from Henbane as well - including a friend of Lucy. Lucy wants answers - about her mother and her friend. And so she begins nosing about.....perhaps not the wisest choice in a town full of secrets - and secret keepers.
As a reader, we know much more. In part one, McHugh cuts the narrative between Lucy's present day search for answers and Lila's arrival and life in Henbane. Although a generation apart, Lila and Lucy's stories seem to mirror each other. Other voices are introduced in the next two parts, bring a different perspective and shedding further light on both the past and present.
McHugh does a great job in setting the tone of the novel. Details and descriptions of everyday life, the locale, the customs and the mood of the town and its inhabitants are richly drawn. I had vivid pictures of Lucy and Lila sitting on the same front porch.
Of the two main characters, I found myself most drawn to Lila, perhaps because I wanted things to be better for her. Lucy makes some rash choices that had me thinking 'oh no!' more than once. But, I did want her to find answers. Both for herself and me. I had a fairly clear idea of where things were going to end, but the journey there was a very good read. Tension filled and a page turner.
A few of the supporting cast of characters were a wee bit cliched. But, the reader has no trouble discerning who is 'good' and who is 'bad'. Or do they? For the lines are blurred in The Weight of Blood. Where does loyalty lie?
"You grow up feeling the weight of blood, of family. There's no forsaking kin."
I thought McHugh's choice of the name Henbane for the town was somewhat revealing.. Henbane is 'a coarse and poisonous plant of the nightshade family, with sticky hairy leaves and an unpleasant smell.' The case of Lucy's missing friend is based on a horrifying true event.
I reviewed a book last month that fell into a newly (to me) coined genre - grit lit. The Weight of Blood has a distinctly Southern Gothic feel to it, but I would also tag it as grit lit. Dark, dangerous and grittily atmospheric. The Weight of Blood is an excellent debut and has marked McHugh as an author I'll be watching. Her second novel Arrowood is in the works.
Read an excerpt of The Weight of Blood. You can find Laura McHugh on Facebook and on Twitter.