‘Darkness’ Blooms with Strong Concept, Just Don’t Look Too Deep

Women going missing or being murdered in a small town is a well-known and well-worn trope, as is that small town having a hidden curse that keeps its people close. In Andrea Hannah’s new novel, Where Darkness Blooms, the two are effect and cause.

On the small prairie town of Bishop, endless windstorms make the just-as-endless fields of sunflowers bob and sway. Delilah, Whitney, Jude, and Bo have been linked since birth, when their three mothers all found themselves single and in need of a friend—and when all three women disappeared two years ago. Now the teens fend for themselves, even as they try to grapple with their collective and individual losses. Delilah, the de facto leader, wants to move on with her life, especially now that hunky Bennett Harding is in it. Jude would also love to move on with Bennett, who she had been seeing in secret before he dumped her for Delilah. Whitney is mourning the mysterious murder of her girlfriend Eleanor six months ago, and Bo’s assault at the hands of another Harding has her filled with rage and trauma.

The girls each have their own secrets in their respective digging into their mothers’ disappearances, too. Delilah finds a mysterious phone number scribbled down hours after her mother supposedly vanished. Whitney swears she can hear Eleanor’s voice on the wind. Bo finds a knife blackened with crusted blood in the clearing where a monument to their mothers was supposed to stand. As they get closer, the pattern of Bishop’s absent women gets clearer until they realize one of them may be next.

The cover to Andrea Hannah's Where Darkness Blooms, in which a white girl with brown hair and bangs is entwined with sunflowers, some of which appear to be growing in tendrils out of her face. Her eyes are covered, one by the aforementioned tendrils and the other by a leaf.
The flowers see everything, and that’s how they know you’re up to some really shady stuff.

The very ground in Bishop is thirsty for blood; this is a reveal late in the book to the girls, but we’re told about it in the prologue. The concept is compelling. In a similar vein to What We Harvest, the prosperity of the land is tied to death. And the town has prospered for over a century on this dusty patch of prairie, especially for the Hardings, who lead the town in more ways than one. Hannah has nailed the way power tends to condense in a small town, so often passed down like a royal title through generations. In this era without cell phones, the isolation and stark deviation between those with the power and those subject to them are even more pronounced.

There are, however, a few things I have questions about. First, why were four sixteen-year-old girls left to fend for themselves for two years? Does Bishop have no social services? The girls don’t seem to have jobs; how are they funding this Boxcar Children-like existence? Second, there’s a reveal late in the book that there’s no clinic or hospital within city limits; did this really only come up as an issue for any one of these girls at the age of 18? No one needed stitches or a bone set before that? Third, part of the ending suggests no one leaves the Bishop city limits, like, ever. Where do they get food? How have they gotten vehicles, clothes, the taxidermy or art supplies that those specialty shops sell in a town with no medical facility?

I think I’m reading more closely into the specifics of the story than Hannah intended. Much of Where Darkness Blooms feels like a fable, with its watchful sunflowers that whisper to each other in the voices of dead women. With its broken hearts and slamming cellar doors and bonfires that light up the summer and autumn nights, who needs a backdrop made of flesh and blood instead of mist? This is a book that leans heavily into concept and character, handwaving over details that don’t serve those ends. But the concept and character are strong, so if that will sustain you, Where Darkness Blooms might be your kind of book.

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