I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher for review. This review was originally published on Bookreporter.com.
Kate Moretti’s fifth novel, THE BLACKBIRD SEASON, will keep you up late flipping pages propelled to find out what happened. It is eerie and thought-provoking, suspenseful and chilling.
The story follows beloved baseball coach and teacher, Nate Winters, as he is faced with disastrous consequences when, after years of becoming arguably too involved with his students, he’s accused of crossing an uncrossable line. Questions swirl around him and command the attention of everyone in the quiet, former paper mill town. Did he have sex with his student, Lucia? What’s his role in her disappearance? Did he hurt her, or worse?
In a small town like Mt. Oanoke, Pennsylvania, the tides of public opinion can shift quickly when a favorite teacher is accused of horrific, unimaginable things. Though Nate denies the rumors, just the impression of guilt lashes around and tears apart his family, their friendships and his career. Despite his stellar reputation, colleagues, parents, and students easily disregard their past positive experiences with Nate and buy into the indictment initiated by a newspaper article written by an eager local reporter who sees Nate and Lucia together outside a low-end motel.
Nate’s wife, Alecia, is gutted by the allegations against her husband, while unsure of what to believe. Alecia is a stay-at-home mom struggling with their son, who is on the autism spectrum, and she’s resentful of Nate’s distance and unwillingness to engage in Gabe’s treatments. The images and scenes with Alecia mothering Gabe are vivid, heart-wrenching, and often tender. Moretti provides a painful and exhausting glimpse into life with a child who has autism spectrum disorder and asks the reader to consider what having a “normal” child means and the power of unconditional acceptance. The divergence of parenting styles between mother and father is relatable and offers both perspectives.
Nate’s colleague and the couple’s close friend, Bridget Peterson, has been dealing with grief over the loss of her husband. She finds herself questioning the charges of wrongdoing against Nate and on a journey to uncover details to discover what really happened. Bridget’s steadfast friendship and curiosity compels her to fight for the truth even when everyone else seems to be willing to conform to popular opinion and distance themselves from Nate Winters.
At the center of the story and mystery is Lucia, white-haired and exotic, flitting along the edges of high school relationships. She is called a witch and alternately pulled into and rejected by groups in confusing and hurtful ways all while dealing with an unsafe and unloving home life.
The day that great numbers of blackbirds fall from the sky coincides with Lucia pulling the most devastating Tarot card and this unusual and frightening event triggers the first domino, in a teetering path of dominoes, to fall. As each brick topples into another, Bridget, Lucia’s creative writing teacher, uses Lucia’s journal and student’s social media videos to guide her to answers in search of exoneration for Nate. Ironically, Bridget must dive in deeper to her students’ lives and grow closer to them in order to help her friend whose over-involved teaching style is what has him in trouble at all.
THE BLACKBIRD SEASON stirs up many questions including: How close should a teacher get to their students? What defines close? What about teachers’ relationships with students who have difficult family situations? Is that different? Should teachers follow their students on social media? As a parent, what would you think of a teacher/coach who interacts with kids the way Nate does?
The story highlights the closeness and trials of marriage and comments on unfaithfulness. Each marriage in the story is touched by infidelity or the wondering and possibility of it. Police officer and Nate’s best friend, Tripp, comments: “‘Does a cheater have a type?’ … ‘There’s no type for anything. People are just doing their thing, being people, right?’” As a reader, we consider this along with the characters and see that crossing a line of faithfulness is much more than having a sexual interaction.
Motherhood, marriage and friendship, mystery, intrigue and disaster, are all wrapped together in this compelling suspense. THE BLACKBIRD SEASON is the perfect read this fall.
© Copyright Leah DeCesare 2017