Verdict: BY BLOOD is an intriguing, emotionally-rich and exhilarating story full of complex characters and poignant emotional struggles as seen through the eyes of a frank, self-aware seventeen-year-old.
BY BLOOD is a thoughtful, funny, intense work of young adult fiction that takes the reader on a journey through the streets of Oxford, exploring everything from the passion of summer romance to the mystic appeal of the ancient druids.
Seventeen-year-old Emma Wong is dreading her summer-long trip abroad with her mother, stepfather, and half-brother. Believing she was brought along as no more than a nanny for baby “Vermin,” Emma resigns herself to spend the whole season wallowing in misery. But when a cute live-in research assistant, a new friend belonging to a druid cult, and the “sexy foreign stranger” Emma was hoping for enter the scene, more than just her summer gets turned upside-down.
Unlike many works of young-adult fiction, BY BLOOD features complex, multi-faceted characters that defy the normal stereotypes assigned to this genre. Banghart achieves this especially well with her heroine, Emma. While Emma, with her love for shopping and cute boys, as well as a disregard for her mother’s authority, could stay within the confines of the typical American teenage girl-mold, she develops into someone more mature and emotionally adult as she faces mounting difficulties. Even her “dorky” stepfather, whom she will only refer to as “Dr. Mike,” reveals that there is more to his character than meets the eye. When Emma questions his ability to understand the sorrow of a father who lost his son to the war in Afghanistan, Dr. Mike explains to her that he can relate, as he lost his brother in Vietnam. By giving even secondary characters rich backgrounds and multiple layers, Banghart lends her work depth and complexity rare in many works of young adult fiction.
In addition to detailed characters, Banghart also includes complicated issues to which many readers can relate. As the story progresses, Emma has to contend with an ever-growing number of problems, including adjusting to her new brother, missing her father, getting used to her new step-father, and choosing between her two love interests. In addition to these struggles, Emma also faces fear of abandonment, a scar left behind from when her mother left her and her father for Dr. Mike. Meanwhile, Emma strives to stave off “the worst feeling in the world..being powerless.” With such a conflicted mix of emotions, Emma finds solace in her new life as a druid, and turns to her friends for comfort.
Banghart creates another compelling feature of By Blood by telling the story through the perspective of melodramatic, entertaining Emma. This heroine provides the reader with a self-aware, witty point of view, complete with such commentary as, “I knew I sounded snotty but I just couldn’t help it” and “God, where the hell was my filter?” In doing so, Banghart builds on the high-caliber writing already in place. The author seamlessly sprinkles phrases like “the words crackling against the tension like water in a hot pan” into the text to create the perfect balance between the poetic and the realistic. In addition to giving Emma a strong voice, this technique also helps the reader connect with her enigmatic personality.
BY BLOOD is an intriguing, emotionally-rich and exhilarating story full of complex characters and poignant emotional struggles as seen through the eyes of a frank, self-aware seventeen-year-old.
Reviewed by Claire Colburn for IndieReader.