This book has one of the coolest covers I have seen in a long time, and I’m happy to say that the book lives up to its cover. I was drawn to this novel after reading a review that compared it to the Odyssey. This is the story of 17-year-old Blue Riley and her arduous, perilous quest to find her older sister, missing for two years. It is also the story of Blue discovering the truth about the past and finding her voice (literally).
The action begins at a crossroads at midnight. Blue, who has been living in small town Maine with her aunt Lynne, is waiting for the devil in order to make a deal. She knows from her deceased mother’s stories that musicians have made such deals before and that the crossroads is where it happens. Blue suspects that her sister Cass may have made such a deal two years ago. Blue smells the presence before seeing it, and is surprised that the devil inhabits the form of a woman. She goes ahead and makes this deal: Blue has 6 months to find her sister and save both of their souls or else both are forfeit along with Blue’s voice. The devil enchants Blue’s boots so that they will keep her going in the right direction, and she also removes Blue’s voice. Blue strikes out with her mother’s old guitar, a small bag of mementos, and a wad of cash, not sure where she needs to go but expecting her boots to guide her.
The quest that writer Mason-Black outlines is full of modern day perils: drugs, human trafficking, spousal abuse, homelessness, poverty and a serial killer who targets runaway teens. In addition, there are psychological dangers such as homophobia, transphobia, and a ruthless quest for fame that some artists succumb to. Yet Blue also encounters generosity and kindness. She learns that musicians take care of one another, and that ghosts or perhaps some other benevolent forces will occasionally help her out. She develops a sense for whom to trust and whom to flee, although it doesn’t always serve her well. The problem is that the devil seems to change the rules on her. Thus anyone who knows her real name can spend no more that a few days in her company before tragedy strikes. Even when using an alias, those who travel with Blue will have only a couple of weeks before trouble arises, and that trouble can be quite gruesome.
As Blue journeys forward to find Cass, she also reflects back on her life and how she got to this point. We learn about her mother, Clary, and the alternative country band Dry Gully that she formed with a friend/lover named Tish. Clary, Tish, Cass and Blue were a tight family unit until things started falling apart. The nature of that unraveling is revealed slowly, and Blue, who thinks she understands exactly why it happened, is left wondering if she really understands at all. The more she travels, and the more she has to write to communicate with those around her, the more she desires to have her own voice back and to really use it. Blue will make some hard discoveries about herself and those she has loved, but the question is whether she will be able to use this wisdom in time to save her sister and herself.
Devil and the Bluebird is an interesting hybrid of fantasy and gritty realism. At times it did remind me of ancient myths, where gods or goddesses could intervene to help the hero, but Mason-Black was careful not to dip into that well too much. The ambiguity of the devil made for some interesting developments, too. Is she actually helping Blue sometimes? The dangers of the streets, however, are very real and realistic. Mason-Black does an admirable job in incorporating transgender issues into the story as well as the work of unorthodox communities whose mission is to help the marginalized. She also weaves music and musicians seamlessly into the text. One of the messages of the story is that success is something that one determines for oneself, while fame is conferred upon you by others. So do you want success or do you want fame? Will you use your own voice or copy others?
I’m not sure if Devil and the Bluebird is considered YA, but it would certainly be a suitable read for teens. It has a positive message about those who are marginalized, about following one’s muse, and what makes a family. I wished that the end had been developed a bit more; it felt abrupt but then again, when I read something enjoyable, I don’t want it to end. A good read for summer.