Author: Laura Ruby
Genre: Magical realism, contemporary, young adult
My rating: ★★★★
“The face that the world sees is never the sum of who we are.” I was thumbing the blurb’s print on the roughish dust jacket of Bone Gap when my fingertips stopped at this line, the last one dangling at the end. It struck a chord with me. Lately I was contemplating about appearances, about the metaphorical masks we put on when we bottle up feelings or when we don’t want the society to judge us for who we really are. With its ambiguous synopsis, would the book be able to quench my curiosity?
It did, but in a way I did not expect.
The story unfolds in the small town of Bone Gap, which couldn’t have been more aptly named. Patched together by sleepy cornfields, neighbourly bonds, and gossips with little to no drop of truth in them, the Midwestern farm town is full of gaps—instances and realizations where people could just slip into when they think they no longer want to be part of the town. Brothers Finn and Sean O’ Sullivan, for instance, have been orphaned twice, first when their mother hightailed it to Oregon with a new man and second when the inexplicably beautiful Roza disappeared from their lives.
The town did not think anything is amiss with Roza’s disappearance, as they are used to people leaving them. But eighteen-year-old Finn knows Roza did not leave on her volition; he saw her being kidnapped by a man whose face he could not quite describe. Since he could only identify the man by the way he moves—“like a cornstalk in the wind”—the police and the people of Bone Gap starts doubting him, even believing that he has helped Roza go away. Finn could handle that. What he could not is when his brother Sean seems to side with the town…which is not really that surprising, since Sean has given his heart to Roza the night the mysterious girl appeared in their barn after escaping an unknown evil.
In a series of events that marries dream and reality, the readers are introduced in a world awash with mystery and magical realism. I love how the story cradles Easter eggs lifted from the pages of D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths, with the starker ones pointing to the tale of Persephone and Demeter. The prose, which bears the beauty of lyricism and the subtlety of poetry, are helpful in binding the different realities of the novel together. I initially did not know that the book is tinged with fantasy, which is why it took me by surprise when the magic in it turns out to be not merely metaphor but real magic. It was a nice touch, especially when you get to pick out the references to other literature.
Most of the characters are indelibly endearing. Finn, who earns the nicknames Moonface, Sidetrack, and Spaceman for always seemingly drifting and not looking anyone in the eye, is a precious character whose development throughout the novel is palpable. I love how his “distractedness” became also useful in making the third-person POV a little unreliable. This makes the chapters enchanting to read, with essential twists at every turn.
The novel also dips its edges into romance, but not of the cloying, sweet kind. Pretty boy Finn finds himself uncontrollably enamoured with Petey, the feisty and not-so-pretty bee-eyed daughter of the town’s beekeeper (much to the bafflement of the whole Bone Gap, of course). A heart-aching revelation explains this unconventional attraction, but headstrong Finn refuses to back down. His love for Petey is real, no matter what.
Fairytales drop by here, too, but in a style that reverses their Disneyfied formula. Whereas the traditional ones include poor, pretty girls in the dirt who get swept up and brought to castles to live the life of princesses, the one we have with Bone Gap includes a poor, pretty girl who actually enjoys working in the dirt and is not interested in a living in a castle with you, thank you very much. Stockholm syndrome is eschewed here in the process.
Unfortunately, the poor, pretty girl in question—Roza—shapes up to become the story’s Mary Sue. She is beautiful to a fault, charming enough to captivate the whole town (and basically everyone she gets in contact with, including otherworldly abductors), and in possession of little “flaws” that are not flaws at all. In other words, our little Polish girl is just too good to be true. I believe that with more believable imperfections (and a bit more of personality development), she could have been more humanized.
But over all, the story is still good; it is up there with my “most unputdownable” list. It dissects what real heroism is—should it should always involve brawn and good looks, of Knight-in-Shining-Armour treatment, of definite hubris on the sides of saviourism? Or is it enough to have bravery and steadfast belief in the midst of doubters and critics, of a good heart beaten by disquiet but unbeaten by hopelessness? Here, the princess did not get saved by her prince, but by another young man with a disability he did not know and a need to get himself a family again. Here, the prince shuts off the world and retreats inside himself to brood and simmer in stoicism. Here, a not-so-pretty maiden gets her heart broken by a love that she thought made her beautiful, only to be washed away by a reality that sneakily hid itself in masks. Here, we are reminded that true love does not require seeing what others could, if it could already see what it needed to in order to remain alive.
Four stars for an amazing read.