Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Falling into Bone Gap

Laura Ruby's Printz Award Winning novel Bone Gap manages to be both eerie and familiar. It's a book, in fact that can't decide what kind of book it is. That's not a bad thing. Ruby masterfully wields that indecision guiding the story through realism and surreal fantasy and back again so fluidly that it's like kayaking down a twisty river. Every new turn brings another surprise. The overall effect is as compelling as it is odd.

Finn, a high schooler, lives in the town of Bone Gap in rural Illinois where everyone knows everyone else. Finn is dreamy and unfocused and strange--he won't look anyone in the eye and sometimes he hears the corn talking to him--which makes him stand out. He is often the target of bullies.

Finn's father is dead and his mother has runaway with an orthodontist leaving Finn to live in Bone Gap with his older brother Sean, an EMT. For a time Finn and Sean also lived with Roza, a mysterious Polish girl who the boys found beaten and bruised in their barn and who was staying with them while she recovered. Both Finn and Sean adored Roza and a love relationship was forming between Sean and Roza when Roza suddenly disappeared.

Finn swears he saw a man abduct Roza, but no one in Bone Gap believes him. They all think Finn had something to do with her disappearance. And this is where the eerieness really sets in. For one thing, the people of Bone Gap, when they are mentioned in the story like that, speak with one voice, like a Greek chorus (which is appropriate as the story borrows a lot from Greek mythology but you don't need to know that to enjoy it). The people of Bone Gap also seem incapable of taking action. A girl disappears but the people of Bone Gap refuse to believe she was abducted. The people of Bone Gap think Finn had something to do with her disappearance but they don't bother figuring out what or doing anything about it. When Roza disappears it's as if she leaves nothing but Bone Gap gossip in her wake.

The individuals of Bone Gap, however, are much more varied than "the people of Bone Gap." Finn, Roza, and Sean, among others, have opinions and desires at odds with the people of Bone Gap. And they all have beautiful and sometimes painful backstories that make the characters both rich and believeable.

And despite the disinterest of the people Bone Gap Finn doesn't give up on Roza. He thinks she can somehow be found.

As good as Ruby is at fleshing out her human characters, she's even better with animals. Bone Gap, both the city and the book, is full of animals, from the beekeepers' angry bees to Finn's pregnant cat Calamity Jane to a possibly-magical horse that takes up residence with a goat in Finn's barn to the neighbor's chicken (Runaround Sue), to a mysterious dog nearly always found sleeping in a lane who won't move for anyone or anything. What's more, Finn seems to attract animals, it's one of his many weirdnesses. The animals are as odd and individual as the human characters and yet ooze symbolism and impart a sort of mystical quality over Finn and the town of Bone Gap.

If you've ever lived in the rural Midwest, you'll recognize the strangeness of existence among corn and animals and other isolated people, but reading Bone Gap may let see your world with new eyes. If you've never lived in the Midwest, well, it's part of your country and you should probably get to know it. Bone Gap is a weird and beautiful place to start.

1 comment :

Liviania said...

Great review! This is a weird and wonderful book.