Dear Ms. Roberts:
One thing that you never fail to do is make the setting come alive. The South Dakota Black Hills have never sounded so welcoming, so engaging than in your book, Black Hills. The story is in three parts and while I am never a fan of flashbacks, I did feel like the story dragged a bit in the beginning.
Cooper Sullivan is an angry 11 year old who is sent to stay with his grandparents over the summer. His parents are going away to "save their marriage" and can’t be bothered with their kid. Cooper is sullen and unhappy to be stuck in the backwoods of America without even a television. "As far as he could see, it would be him and Tetris for the duration of his prison term."
His expectations are challenged not only by the outpouring of love that his grandparents lavish on him but also his burgeoning friendship with Lil Chance, the girl next door. Lil loves baseball and riding horses and animals and that summer she opens her heart and takes in Cooper.
Cooper and Lil are inseparable for the summers that he visits his grandparents, but it would be a book length story if it ended with them married and happy, would it? No, Cooper needs to find himself and to that end, it means rejecting Lil. Oh, Cooper doesn’t like to think of it that way. He made a decision that it was best for both of them to have time apart particularly since Cooper never knew what he wanted out of life.
It is true that Lil has always known where she fit in and what she wanted out of life: to save animals and love Cooper. Cooper’s rejection stunned Lil and she tried to forge a new life without him with a new man and her mission to save her Black Hills wildlife.
Lil sets up Chance Wildlife Refuge in her backyard, essentially, run by grants and visitors. It’s the one part of her dreams that has survived her path from youth to adulthood and she is fiercely protective of it. Someone threatens to derail the Refuge by killing animals and people and targeting Lil.
Cooper, having made his mark in the world, comes back to his grandparents in South Dakota and comes back for Lil. He hasn’t ever stopped loving her and is in a place, both emotionally and financially to be her partner.
I would have liked to have seen Lil hold out against Cooper but I guess her emotions were too strong. I, unlike Lil, never really forgave Cooper for breaking Lil’s heart; for having to sacrifice her feelings in search of his own self worth. I objectively understood that had Cooper not gone on his path of self discovery, he wouldn’t be right emotionally and mentally for Lil but that still didn’t stop me from scowling at him while I was reading.
The secondary characters are so well drawn here from the grandparents of Cooper to the parents of Lil to her employees at the Refuge. Even short appearances of townspeople. There was a sweet older woman/younger man subplot that I found charming.
The suspense plot was good. I was surprised at how anxious I felt about the safety of the animals almost more so than the safety of the people. I suppose, in part, because the animals appeared defenseless, even the predators. Despite the suspense, as with most Roberts books, I was more engaged with the interaction between the main characters. B-