Bone Gap

I finished reading Bone Gap by Laura Ruby a couple of days ago, and I’m still trying to decide how I feel about it. It was beautifully written, kind of creepy, and kept me guessing, but I don’t know that it was one of my favorite books. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I’ll figure it out as I’m writing this post.

The people of Bone Gap don’t know what happened to Roza, a young woman who left the town as mysteriously as she entered it. Maybe she went back to Poland. Maybe she left for greener pastures. Maybe she just had enough of living with the O’Sullivan brothers. Or maybe the younger brother, Finn, had something to do with her disappearance. No one knows the truth, but they’re not really looking for Roza, either.

Well, no one except Finn.

Finn O’Sullivan knows that Roza was taken by a strange man, but nobody believes him. Finn can’t recall what the man looks like, just how he moves. Finn looks for the man everywhere he goes, and he catches glimpses of him a couple of times, but the people of Bone Gap continue to think that he’s making up a crazy story.

Even Finn’s big brother Sean, the guy who was probably closest to Roza, refuses to believe Finn, and the situation is driving the brothers apart. Only Petey, a girl with her own experiences with Bone Gap’s rumor mill, seems to believe Finn. She eventually comes to realize that maybe there’s a reason why Finn can’t remember what Roza’s abductor looks like.

As for Roza, she is being held captive by a man who wants to make her his. This man has been obsessed with Roza for a long time, and he gives her everything she could possibly need…except her freedom. Roza wonders if anyone is looking for her or even cares what happened to her. She searches for ways to escape her situation, but all seems lost…

…or is it?

How can Roza flee from a man so powerful that even the dead obey his commands? Can Finn find a way to save Roza even though everyone around him thinks he’s crazy…or worse? Whatever happens, what will it mean for the O’Sullivan brothers, Roza, Petey, and the people of Bone Gap?

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I don’t know if I’ve made it clear here, but Bone Gap has a bit of magical realism in it. It’s rather subtle in the beginning, but it’s more and more evident the longer you read. I guess maybe I wasn’t expecting the mystical elements of the book, and that’s why I’m not sure how I feel about it. Truthfully, even though I love books with magic in them, I would have liked this book more if there had been a more realistic explanation of Roza’s disappearance and several other occurrences in Bone Gap. (I know I’m probably in the minority on this. That’s fine with me.)

Bone Gap is a good addition to libraries that serve young adult and adult readers. I think it may be a little too deep for younger readers (and some older readers, to be honest). There’s also some mature content that could keep it out of middle school collections.

Bone Gap was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, so that might tell you a little about the quality of this book. (If you’re curious, the winner of this year’s prize went to Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. I haven’t read it yet, but I hope to get to it eventually.)

If you’d like more information about Bone Gap and other works by Laura Ruby, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Tumblr. I also found a book trailer for Bone Gap on YouTube. It captures the mood of the book fairly well.

 

Anna Was Here

Forgive me if this post is not quite like others I’ve done. I’m writing this while attending an online meeting for webmasters in my school district. This is the only “free” time I have, so there you go.

A couple of days ago, I finished another of the 2015-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. The book was Anna Was Here by Jane Kurtz.

Anna Was Here is a book that, in my opinion, will appeal to many readers in elementary and early middle school. What’s more, I think this book may have a place in many church libraries. (That’s not something I often say about the books I read.)

Anna Nickel is a safety expert. She knows just what to do if disaster strikes near her home in Colorado. There’s one big problem, though. Her family is moving to Oakwood, Kansas for a while. (Her dad is a preacher, and he’s been asked to help out an ailing church in his hometown.) Anna doesn’t know a lot about Kansas–and she doesn’t really want to. She’s not happy about the move, and she hopes that she’ll be back in Colorado before her birthday. Well, Anna may not get her wish.

Life in Kansas is much more complicated that Anna thought it would be. She’s encountering family members she’s never met. Her dad is totally wrapped up in the church, her mom is too busy to write, and, worst of all, Anna’s room is pink! Anna also seems to be instantly loathed by one of the kids nearby…who happens to be one of her distant cousins.

Eventually, Anna finds a few things to like about her temporary home. She’s connecting with her dad’s family (something she’d never done before), and she’s learning about farming, emus, and how one should stay safe in all sorts of situations…including tornadoes. There are still many things she doesn’t like about Kansas–the time her dad spends at church, missing her family and friends in Colorado, going to a new school, or her pink room–but maybe it’s not all bad.

When disaster hits Oakwood, Anna must put everything she knows about safety to work. She must come together with everyone in this new town to find something very valuable to her. In the process, Anna learns just what it means to be part of a community. She realizes that others will do whatever they can to help her…simply because it’s the right thing to do.

Join Anna as she discovers more about her family, her faith, and herself when you read Anna Was Here by Jane Kurtz.

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I really, really wanted to like this book. I liked parts of it, but much of the book felt a bit jumbled to me. It was difficult to follow what was going on sometimes, particularly with many characters being introduced fairly quickly. It was hard, in particular, to keep all of Anna’s aunts straight. I’m still not sure who’s who.

One other issue I had with this book was the character of Simon. We saw glimpses of him and got to know a bit about his background, but his part of the story felt unfinished to me. There’s no resolution between Simon and Anna. He kind of fades into the background at the end of the book, and that bothered me. If he’s so important that Anna wants to learn more about him–and even try to get revenge for his actions toward her–then he’s important enough to warrant some kind of ending, happy or not.

I don’t know that my students will feel the way I did about this book. I’m sure many of them will enjoy it, and, since it’s on the Children’s Book Award list for my state, I’ll promote it to all of my 3rd-5th graders. (Do I think this book should be on the SCCBA nominee list in the first place? Well, I may not mention my feelings on that to my students.)

I do think this book has a place in many church libraries, even though Anna does get kind of angry at God and question why he does (or doesn’t do) certain things. (Whatever faith you practice–if any–I’m sure you can probably relate to that sentiment in some way.) In the end, though, Anna does begin to reconcile her faith with the situation around her, and she finds a way to make peace with everything that has happened.

If you’d like more information on Anna Was Here and author Jane Kurtz, you can visit her website here or follow her on Twitter.

Mercy Creek

So, I just finished reading Mercy Creek by Matt Matthews–which is good since I’ll be meeting the author tomorrow night.  (He lives just a few miles away from me, so a bunch of librarians and teachers are joining him for dinner and a discussion of his book.)  Should be interesting…

Mercy Creek takes place in a sleepy Virginia town where things haven’t changed much in the last fifty years or so.  The same families live in the same houses, attend the same churches, and hold onto the same old grudges and secrets.  Sixteen-year-old Isaac has lived in this town his entire life.  His father is the local Presbyterian minister, his mother recently passed away, his girlfriend is drifting away from him, and his summer is filled with working at a hardware store instead of playing baseball with this friends.  The only bright spot that Isaac can see is the $5,000 reward being offered to whoever can find who’s responsible for a recent string of vandalism.  That money would go a long way to making Isaac a little happier.  But can he find out what’s going on…without risking his neck?

As Isaac begins digging for information, he comes across some unexpected secrets in his small town.  Prejudices that no one wants to admit to.  Atrocities that the whole town has turned a blind eye to for decades.  Isaac keeps searching for answers amid all of the secrecy, and he finds something he didn’t expect.  Himself.  His hunt for the truth forces him to grow into the person he wants to be instead of the one he’s been since his mother died.  He also finds a friend in someone who knows more about what’s going on in this town than he’s saying.  Can Isaac find the truth before someone gets hurt?  And can he learn to accept the changes around him, including those within his own life?  Read Mercy Creek by Matt Matthews to find out.

I’ll admit to you, dear readers, that it took me a while to get into this book.  It seemed to jump around a lot at the beginning.  (Of course, I was reading an uncorrected proof of the book, so those issues may have been fixed in editing.  I hope so.)  As I kept reading, however, the story grew more interesting, especially since Isaac’s town has a lot in common with the small town I grew up in (and still live in).  Prejudices run deep, and they’re often passed on to the younger generations.  It’s nice to read a book that exposes those prejudices for what they are–complete and total ignorance–while not being too preachy (which is odd since the author of this book is actually a preacher).

I look forward to meeting Matt Matthews, author of Mercy Creek, tomorrow night.  I’ll post a recap of that meeting in the comments, so stay tuned!