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Book Review: Blackbird Blues

Blackbird Blues. Jean K. Carney. Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company, October 1, 2019, Trade Paperback and E-book, 218 pages.

Reviewed by Hallie Koontz.

Blackbird Blues could be considered the story of many characters, but it is chiefly the story of Mary Kaye O’Donnell, a grieving and pregnant teenager who finds herself on the verge of several important life decisions. 

Other characters include: Sister Michaeline, who becomes a mentor to Mary Kaye even though Michaeline is already dead at the beginning of the novel; Lucius, a friend of Sister Michaeline who gifts her diary to Mary Kaye; and Lucius’ son Benny, an inmate at Joliet Prison. Although Blackbird Blues is about a critical juncture in Mary Kaye’s life, the other characters jump hurdles of similar importance, and their lives change in ways that are just as significant and meaningful. 

With her family background steeped in the Catholic tradition, Mary Kaye’s story will likely resonate with Catholic readers, although anyone can sympathize with her reasons for wishing to enter the convent—to focus on her studies and her music without domestic life strapping her down. Mary Kaye second-guesses whether she should have entered the convent, as early in the book she finds herself pregnant and wondering if the commitment she made was in haste.

Although her uncertainty and pregnancy comprise the crux of the plot, these factors do not feel like the core of the book. Mary Kaye’s decision at the novel’s climax seems secondary to everything else that has happened, less of a decision influenced and informed by other events than one she was guided to by an invisible force. The energy of the book might have benefitted from some more evident stepping stones to the end, but life isn’t always one clear, linear path. This is a book for readers who enjoy introspective slice-of-life fiction.

At times, the story’s introspective quality slows the pacing because it feels inserted rather than natural. Conversations often feel like a list of philosophical discourses to work through rather than a dynamic interaction between two people, and, as a result, there are a few instances of repetition or reiteration of an idea that does little to reinforce the emotional plot points. Sister Michaeline’s diary entries are interspersed throughout the novel and provide fun and interesting narrative breaks, but sometimes the length of the passages dropped at one time feel a little too long, and they take away from Mary Kaye's story. Some interesting characters and relationships could have been explored instead, giving them more impact within the story. Author Jean K. Carney lays a detailed groundwork with many interesting plot threads, and I would have loved to see them explored further. 

Blackbird Blues is a coming-of-age novel that will satisfy readers who enjoy life’s crossroads, introspection, and how the connections we make in life inform who we become.


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