Hello everyone, and welcome back!
It’s shaping up to be a super busy December as well, but luckily, it has some commuting and travel in it for me, and those are good times to fit some reading in. To dig back into it this month, I decided to crack another magical realism book, since I seem to be really enjoying this genre.
Bone Gap by Susan Ruby
This cover is fine, by the way. I feel like it’s probably hard to capture the feel of this book in a cover, since there are a lot of important plants/animals in this one. I like the title font. (Okay, I’m going to work on my cover analysis, since I seem to be doing it.)
Bone Gap is about Bone Gap, a small town in Illinois that’s mostly a farm community, with lots of corn, cows, and honey. The community is rocked with the disappearance of the beloved outsider, Roza, who once showed up in the O’Sullivan barn and became a part of their family and of the town. Finn, the only witness to her disappearance, is unable to adequately describe the man who took her away. The book mostly flips between the perspectives of Finn and Roza, with a few other characters (like Finn’s love interest, Petey) getting a turn.
I enjoyed this book, but—okay, it was short, but not incredibly short. But it had gaps, if I’m being honest. The brother relationship between Finn and Sean seemed important, but Sean doesn’t seem like much of a character? He’s more of a suggestion of, story about a character told through other people’s observations. It makes him fail to be as likeable as everyone tells you he is, because he’s so inactive (and sometimes openly a jerk) in the story.
This book also fell a bit short in terms of creating the environment of the town, I felt. I didn’t get a total sense of what it might look like, what more of the people were like, a sense of what the status quo in the town was. There were a few minor characters given small moments or descriptions, but in comparison to, say, When the Moon Was Ours, I didn’t really have a picture in my mind of what daily life was like, about how the protagonists related to the people of the town. It felt a lot more “tell” than “show” in that aspect: for example, we’re told the names everyone calls Finn and we can see how he feels about it, but we don’t witness those interactions. We’re told the people of the town came to love Roza and there’s an impact to her leaving, but we don’t really get to see that.
As with most magical realism, this book doesn’t give much explanation for its magic. That’s not really an issue in terms of what happens with Roza, but it does get a little hairy in terms of the magic that happens for Finn. I think if you have magic that has a very loose explanation or none at all, but it’s always been that way, then it’s not too hard to swallow in magical realism. Magic with no explanation that’s new or has no precedent can be a little trickier. (Also, this book does a kind of weird thing where it gives a rational explanation for one “magic” thing that’s happening, and that could’ve been interesting but kind of undermined the perspective of that character, which made other magic stuff he claimed seem more fake…even though it wasn’t? That kind of felt unnecessary.)
So why did I enjoy this book, anyway? Well, Roza is a pretty great character. She learned when she was younger to desire respect, independence, and knowledge over the adoration of others for how beautiful she is, and she’s fierce to fight against the awful men who covet her (and try to hurt her). Roza is great, even if I wish she got to actively do and say more in the story. (This is particularly a thing in Roza’s plotline, but it’s also a common symptom in magical realism: a lot of atmosphere, not a lot of characters Doing and Saying Things. I like the atmosphere, but I do wish there were more of a balance, and maybe at some point I’ll find me a magical realism that can do both.) Finn’s romance with Petey, the bee-keeping, sharp-tongued girl is also very sweet, although I could’ve done with spending more time in their conversations. These three characters are worth caring about, and the style of writing and description flows easily and is easy to read.
(I’m also starting to think that maybe I just have a bias in terms of magical realism? Like maybe I just really like it? I’m trying to keep that in mind so that I’m critical of my own…criticisms. And so I put these books in a context.)
Anyway, don’t pick up this book if you want a lot of action and characters saying things and major plot Happenings. Do pick up this book if you like books that rely heavily on style and character moments, although you’ll definitely get stronger character moments in The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender or When the Moon Was Ours.
Do you have some magical realism favourites? Or do you have a favourite not-as-popular YA genre, and what is it? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!