I’ve read A Different Blue not once, not twice, not even thrice… probably four times, and all in the span of the one year I’ve known about this book. Each time, I’m reminded of how much I love this story, its characters, and Harmon’s writing. I love this story so much that I’ve never really known how to do a review on it. This time, however, I shall attempt to do it.
First, I don’t think I can do a better synopsis than the one on Goodreads, so for once I’ll do it the lazy way and just copy and paste it here:
Blue Echohawk doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know her real name or when she was born. Abandoned at two and raised by a drifter, she didn’t attend school until she was ten years old. At nineteen, when most kids her age are attending college or moving on with life, she is just a senior in high school. With no mother, no father, no faith, and no future, Blue Echohawk is a difficult student, to say the least. Tough, hard and overtly sexy, she is the complete opposite of the young British teacher (Mr Wilson) who decides he is up for the challenge, and takes the troublemaker under his wing.
This is the story of a nobody who becomes somebody. It is the story of an unlikely friendship, where hope fosters healing and redemption becomes love. But falling in love can be hard when you don’t know who you are. Falling in love with someone who knows exactly who they are and exactly why they can’t love you back might be impossible.
The synopsis however is a little misleading, because this is NOT the story of a forbidden romance between student and teacher. Blue and Wilson don’t have a romantic relationship until late into the story, and in fact 40% into the story, Blue would have already graduated from high school. More than their relationship, this is the story of Blue – her history or lack thereof, her loneliness and lack of identity and belonging, her journey of redemption, growth and revelations.
Blue is a lonely soul – since she could remember, she’s only ever had Jimmy, the man who raised her. But when Jimmy is lost to her in an accident and she’s told that Jimmy wasn’t actually her biological father, Blue’s only source of identity and belonging is taken away from her. She doesn’t have anything, or anyone else – no birth certificate, school records, immunisation records, etc. Alone in the world, she grew up strong and tough, independent if not for her need for another’s love.
I loved Blue as a character. Although I have never been in a situation anywhere similar to Blue’s, Amy Harmon’s writing was so powerful that I felt acutely how much Blue ached for love and redemption, how lost she felt and how she desperately needed help but had no one to ask it from. While it is a common trope in many books to find characters with tragedy-ridden lives like Blue’s, I found Blue uniquely compelling, very unlike many self-pitying protagonists that I’ve read enough of. Although lost in life, she’s self-aware, bright, strong and courageous. In spite of the trials she faced, she braved through them with her head held high. She was a character I could understand, admire and ultimately respect.
Wilson, the male lead, was also charismatic. Although quirky and nerdy, I understood why his students, and Blue herself, found him charming and alluring. Like Blue, I found myself captivated during his History lessons, during which Wilson turns History into introspective lessons about life and identity. Wilson asks his students to pen down their own personal history, but Blue, a stranger to her own identity and history, finds it impossible to do so. She begins to write a parable about an unwanted blackbird who was pushed out of its nest:
Once upon a time there was a little blackbird, pushed from the nest, unwanted. (…)
This obscure story and her reluctance to write her personal history compels Wilson to find out more about her. They form a slow friendship that only strengthens after her graduation, when Blue finds herself in a dire situation and has no one but Wilson to help her along the way.
The story only gets better from then on. Slowly, Blue learns to love herself and others. She finds redemption and learns to receive and give help. And while Wilson was a major contributing factor to this change in Blue, Blue’s accomplishments and growth were mostly attributed to her own strength and resilience, which made this story even more beautiful.
“I have tried to change, Wilson. Remember when we talked about redemption? That night my car wouldn’t start, that night we were rescued by Larry and Curly?
That night … something happened to me. Something I’ve never felt before. I was heartbroken and sick inside. And I prayed. I cried out for love, not even knowing that love was what I asked for. I needed to feel loved, and it was just… just poured down on me. No strings, no ultimatums, no promises required. Just freely given. All I had to do was ask. And I was… changed by it. In that moment, I felt… healed.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t perfected by it. My trials weren’t even taken away. My weaknesses weren’t suddenly made into strengths, my struggles weren’t any different. My sorrow didn’t miraculously become joy… but I felt healed all the same.
It was as if the cracks were filled, and the stones around my heart were broken up and swept away. And I felt… whole.”
Besides the characters and storyline, Harmon’s interweaving of the tales from the Paiute Indians/Native Americans, short history recounts during Wilson’s classes, and the intricate craft of wood carving, with the story brought culture and a deeper meaning into the story. I loved all these mini references and it’s clear that Harmon did her research because she displayed more than just a facile knowledge of these topics in her writing.
Harmon is a brilliant author with a knack for writing poignant stories about life, identity and love. I’ve read a couple of her other books (Running Barefoot and Making Faces) and also loved them, but A Different Blue remains my favourite. It is in no way a cliched story about a love between teacher and student, but rather an unconventional story about a girl who, against all odds, redeems herself and learns to love. A highly recommended read for… well, everyone.
“I keep wishing you had a better life… a different life. But a different life would have made you a different Blue. And that would be the biggest tragedy of all.”
(I’m sorry this turned out to be more of a lengthy declaration of love for the book rather than an impartial review, but if you’ve read this far, thank you.)