Book Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

I’ve got a problem. A NetGalley problem. Like most other bookworms, I’ve got eyes bigger than my stomach when it comes to free books–I will request way more than I can feasibly read!

However, when I saw karen’s review of The Weight of Blood, I knew I had to make space on my crowded iPad–and even more crowded TBR list–for this debut novel. I’m grateful I did–based on this novel alone, Laura McHugh is an author to watch.

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In the small Ozarks town of Henbane, Lucy Dane sees a friend go missing with no explanation and no closure. She has already lives without a mother, who–according to town memory–killed herself in the extensive cave system in the wild lands surrounding the area. After finding a clue as to her friend’s disappearance, Lucy begins to pursue the twin threads of the missing women in her life. In the process, she begins to unwind the network of secrets and lies that her family, and the people of Henbane, have woven to keep her and themselves safe.

Laura McHugh’s writing is wonderful: unsentimental but still poignant. Lucy’s point of view especially has some lovely description and imagery, as a teenager who is intelligent but limited by the circumstances of her birth. McHugh also handles the task of realistically sounding like two different characters who are nonetheless both young, lonely women. In fact, most of the characters are handled delicately, even those who the reader has cause to revile; their motivations, while selfish or impure, are at least understandable. While I’ve seen this book touted as something for fans of Gillian Flynn, I found The Weight of Blood to be much more nuanced and believable than what I’ve read of Flynn’s work.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how large of a part the town of Henbane itself plays in the novel. It’s a small, close-knit community where everyone knows everyone. And yet people–like people anywhere–are capable of small kindnesses and immense cruelties. It’s isolated, and in Lucy’s time at least, there are indications that the town is slowly dying as young people move away for more opportunities. Desperation, quiet and overt, permeates the town. The Ozarks themselves are simultaneously a source of beauty and fear; the caves and forests provide cover for dark deeds. As Lucy spirals closer and closer to the heart of the mystery of her missing friend and dead mother, the people and past of Henbane take on a darker and darker cast.

The Weight of Blood has important things to say about what it means to be part of a community and part of a family, and it says them simply but skillfully. It’s also got one heck of a mystery/thriller at its core, and for a slim novel, it packs an emotional punch.

I received this book for review courtesy of publisher Spiegel & Grau. The Weight of Blood is now available for purchase.

Bookwanderer Rating: Four out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: “Spring was short-lived. The hills were ecstatic with blooms, an embarrassing wealth of trees and wildflowers: dogwoods in cream and pink, clouds of bright lavender redbuds, carpets of phlox…”
Other Reviews: KirkusPopcorn Reads, bookbrowsing, bookreporter

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2 Responses to “Book Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh”


  1. 1 echooutside March 23, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    I have the same NetGalley problem and will definitely be checking that book out! Great review! 🙂

  2. 2 FictionFan March 23, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Another NetGalleyoholic here – currently about halfway through this one and really enjoying it. The kitten picture has made my night – thanks! 😀


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