The Short Version: Finn O’Sullivan saw Roza, Bone Gap’s mysterious new arrival, kidnapped right before his eyes. But when he can’t give a description of the kidnapper, the town begins to let the story drift away, assuming she’d really just left. Still, Finn and his brother Sean can’t forget the girl and keep searching for her – and Roza, held captive by a strange man of apparent magic, can’t think of anything but escape…
The Review: I don’t read much YA, even now. But, increasingly, I feel like the genre applique is less and less relevant – because a book like Bone Gap could easily sit on the first floor shelves at the Strand instead of upstairs and nobody would complain or notice or feel as though they’d gotten something less potent than they expected. This is one of those watershed books that makes you realize (or reminds you) that YA is for anyone, just like every other genre.
I came into this book completely in the dark. My podcast co-host Christopher had suggested, after it won the Printz Award, we read it in tandem with Stargirl to discuss “YA Then and Now” – and so I picked it up with barely a glance at the Goodreads description. I didn’t even read the jacket copy; I just dove in. And boy did it hit all the right marks, right from the start. For one thing, it is an exceptional view of young love – especially between two so-called weirdos. Finn and Petey (short for Priscilla, hilariously) are so in love and Ruby captures it so perfectly – and as magic starts to seep into the book, that magic also suffuses the burgeoning love in such a way that it seems like love might’ve even caused some of it, directly.
With magical realism, authors often must make a choice: they can either veer into the realism or turn squarely towards the magical. One of the things that bothered me so much about Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! – a book that feels like kin to this one – was that Russell set up such a magical world and then violently shunted the book into realism in a way that betrayed what had come before. This book, though, follows a similar path of growing strangeness and wonder… and then let’s that expand, both on the page and in the reader’s mind, for as long as possible. There comes a moment, late in the book, when two characters consider whether or not the strange things they’ve seen were real or just lovely shared hallucinations of a sort, two minds thoroughly wrapped up in each other to the point that the real world ceased to matter for a time – and you could interpret many things about this book to be the result of a mind attempting to make sense of an irrational world. But I choose – and I think Laura Ruby does, too – to believe the magic of it all.
It’s interesting to think about the mind and this book, because one crucial plot point involves a character whose mind does have a flaw. I won’t say what it is, but I was really thrilled to see Finn’s mooniness and general space-cadet nature chalked up to something real – and treated with such respect and consideration by the author. Similarly, Rosa’s captivity is treated with seriousness and respect in a way that reminded me of the second half of the second half of Gone Girl more than anything else – an analogy you wouldn’t exactly expect to hear for a YA novel, no? And, again, all of the things that happen with Rosa’s captor could be chalked up to a mind fracturing under stress (a device used to far less success in, say, Sucker Punch) – but they could also just be the sort of magic that used to happen all the time in this world, when gods walked among us and our fates seemed preordained.
Speaking of the gods: it becomes clear at some point that this novel is, in many ways, a riff on the Persephone myth. But Ruby doesn’t expect you to know the story in advance – only knows that, if you do, you’ll get even more out of the novel. There are a few sly references, including an end-of-book pomegranate that sealed the whole deal for me, but mostly this could just be a story of its own. The elements of myth are clear inspirations – and maybe Roza’s captor is Hades… but maybe he’s something else entirely. The latter is a little scarier to think – and a little more thrilling, too. And that feels perfectly fitting for this wonder of a novel.
Rating: 5 out of 5. Magic, pulse-pounding adventure, heart-pounding love, an terrifically inventive riff on one of my favorite Greek myths… Laura Ruby has written a tremendous novel, for all ages. I was captivated from the very first, as the corn talks to Finn and we’re led to understand that Bone Gap is perhaps a stranger place than any of our world – but, as the novel goes on, the reader finds that it doesn’t hurt to hope that such wonder and magic and strangeness could happen to us here.