Black Helicopters is about choices, the ones that come automatically, like scratching an itch and the ones that were made for us. It's also about tension, reading it feels like being caught in an ever-tightening vice. Valkyrie (Valley) lives with her father, referred to as Da, and her brother Bo. To say that Da “enjoys” nature would be like saying Charles Manson “enjoyed” the Beatles. Valley and her family are off the grid. Way off the grid. It’s safe to assume that they are living in the wilds of Montana but it could be anywhere, really.
Da teaches Valley & Bo how to survive in the wild. The only trouble is that he isn’t just prepping them for a Camper Activity badge from the Scouts, he’s teaching them paramilitary and bomb-making skills. Together they make that Ruby Ridge family look like the Brady Bunch. The bombs are for Da’s customers, people who want to send judges, lawyers, abortion doctors and anyone else who pisses them off, a message.
In addition to having them make weapons, Da fills his children’s heads with a steady helping of paranoia and fear. He tells them that government-controlled Black Helicopters are everywhere and that they will kill them on sight. He tells them that their mother was murdered by the helicopters eleven years before and that they must be prepared for “Those People” to burst through their door at any moment.
Black Helicopters is short, (166 pages) so it’s hard to write about it and not spoil it a little bit. I would stop reading now unless you want to know at least part of the ending.
It doesn’t take long for tragedy to strike, Valley’s father dies and she and Bo are forced to flee their home. They survive by following his instructions left to them on a laptop. Eventually they end up in the hands of a man known as the Colonel. The Colonel also lives off the grid and shares their father’s hatred for the government. He is initially thought to be a friend of the family but very rapidly turns out to be worse than the love child between Hitler and Ma Barker.
Valley and Bo flee from the Colonel, only to fall into the crutches of another group that is affiliated with their Da. Fortunately, this group treats them with kindness and respect. The only catch is, they’re a bunch of Neo-Nazis. Well, Woolston doesn’t come right out and say they’re Neo-Nazis but with names like Wolf, Dolph & Eva and the fact that they all sport shaved heads, it’s easy to put two and two together.
After living with these people for a while, Valley decides to strap on a vest loaded with explosives and do what she’s been trained to do her whole life. Once in the outside world she encounters two innocent brothers, Eric & Corbin. Valley manipulates them to do her bidding so that she can get to where she’s going. It is with the brothers that we see Valley’s ruthlessness come to the surface; she views them like pieces on the chessboard that she used to play with her Da and nothing more.
It’s a dark tale, and it’s a troubling one because it involves the warping of children’s minds so that they subscribe to the delusions of people who are supposed to be taking care of them, not moulding them into an extension of a radical ideal. Although I didn’t like Valley, I did feel a few twangs of pity for her because it's made clear almost from the start there is no redirecting the path she’s on. I said at the beginning of this review that this novel was about choices, and the more I read the more I thought about the choices Da made. It made me want to know more about him and what sent him on the path he went on.
Black Helicopters reminded me of that line from The Talented Mr. Ripley:
“Whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn't it, in your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they're a bad person.”
I would highly recommend this book to anyone aged 14 and up.