Blackbird by N D Gomes

Thirty-first of December. The end of 2015. That was the night that five thousand blackbirds dropped dead from the sky just before midnight…

Blackbird cover image

When Alex’s sister Olivia goes missing on Hogmanay night on the tiny island of Orkney the close-knit community is shaken to its core. Determined to find out what has happened to her sister, Alex throws herself into the investigation alongside the island police force. What she discovers will lead her to learn a great deal about Olivia, and also about herself.

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It was the rather enigmatic title of this novel that initially drew me to it, and the blurb sounded intriguing, and like just the sort of read I enjoy. And it is not to say that the blurb is not accurate, but I got a rather different story than the one I was expecting – or perhaps it’s fairer to say that the story was what I expected, but the storytelling was not. Our narrator is fifteen-year-old Alex, who falls asleep on Hogmanay waiting for her older sister to come home, and wakes to find that Olivia never returned.

The core of the story is, of course, finding out what happened to Olivia since the last time she was seen, and we explore this (for the most part) from Alex’s point of view. The thing I particularly enjoyed about Blackbird¬†was the way in which we get an intimate look at how Alex has to try and come to terms with what is happening to her family in the context of all the usual struggles familiar to any of us who have already battled through our teen years. Alex is stubborn, and at times immature, but in this way quite realistic.

The writing does well to maintain the tension and mystery, and although the ending was not a shocking twist, it was a satisfying conclusion to the story. I loved how the setting of Orkney lent itself to the themes of freedom and claustrophobia that are explored through the relationship between Alex and Olivia; their similarities and their differences. I was pulled along nicely by the evenly paced plot and finished the book in a couple of days. Overall it was a quick, enjoyable read that I would recommend to fans of YA thrillers or mysteries.

Everything becomes clear. It’s like a fog lifting on a dark gloomy day, peeling back from the rooftops it clung to until all that remains is a bright blue sky.

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