Looking at the cover and description, you wouldn’t think this is speculative fiction. The reason I picked up Bone Gap was Ana and Renay’s discussion on their Fangirl Happy Hour podcast. Now I can finally go back and listen to the spoilery bits. I loved this book. A deceptively quick read, it really packs an emotional punch and explores some difficult themes through multi-layered characters. A fascinating read that will definitely make it into my years’ favorites list.
Published by: Balzer + Bray, 2015
Ebook: 368 pages
My rating: 9/10
First sentence: The people of Bone Gap called Finn a lot of things, but none of them was his name.
Bone Gap is the story of Roza, a beautiful girl who is taken from a quiet midwestern town and imprisoned by a mysterious man, and Finn, the only witness, who cannot forgive himself for being unable to identify her kidnapper. As we follow them through their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures, acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.
Bone Gap is one of those flow-y books. You know the type. You plan to read just a few pages to see if it’s up your alley, and before you know it you are knee-deep in an adventure without hope of finding a convenient chapter to stop reading. Finn lives in Bone Gap, a small town where everybody knows everybody, and he is known by everybody as a bit of a strange guy. Never looks you in the eye, head in the clouds, very handsome, but distant. And ever since Roza disappeared, things haven’t been the same.
I don’t know how to describe this book in a few sentences, because it is about many things, despite its relatively small page count. It is about Finn growing up and learning things about himself, it is about Roza and how her beauty is a curse as much as a blessing. It’s about Petey, who thinks her face looks like a bee, and whose life is influenced by beauty just as much as Roza’s, and it’s about Sean, a young man forced to abandon his dreams and being, in turn, abandoned by the people he loves.
The tale unfolds through Finn and Roza’s eyes and while Finn does meet a magical horse, his story is still grounded in the reality of Bone Gap. Here, everyday problems are added to Roza’s disappearance – dealing with bullies, getting the girl you like to kiss you, finding a way to talk to your estranged brother… Finn has a lot on his plate, even without the guilt he feels. When Roza was kidnapped, Finn witnessed it but he is unable to identify the kidnapper, which leads most people – his brother Sean included – to not believe Finn at all. After the death of their father, the boys’ mother left them, so Sean was almost expecting to be left again, this time by the woman he loves.
Roza’s story, on the other hand, reads like a dark fairy tale – this is what grounds the book firmly in the fantasy genre (no matter how many times the print “magical realism” on the back cover). It’s not a retelling but the fairy tale I was most reminded of was “Beauty and the Beast”. Except in Bone Gap, a real girl gets thrown into an awful situation and she really has no interest in turning her captor into a prince. Even before her kidnapping, Roza’s life was hard, and the way she reacts to the terrible things happening to her, is part of what makes her so wonderful. I loved this character to pieces and she only gained more and more respect as the story continued.
I was surprised at the many ways in which this little book broke my heart. A few chapters in, I already cared deeply about Finn, Sean, Petey, and Roza. Then the author throws a few twists our way that are big enough to shatter worlds. Terrible things happen to Roza, so awful in fact that all the other characters’ problems should appear ridiculous in comparison. But Laura Ruby, with her flowing prose and lyrical style, managed to make all characters feel equally important. I had so much compassion for Petey who is considered ugly by the people of Bone Gap, I understood Finn’s guilt about letting Roza be taken, I got why his brother Sean behaves the way he does. The characters and their actions are utterly believable, even when confronted with the fantastic.
This is a magical book whose pages just fly by without you noticing. I read it in a hammock on the beach, in one sitting, and afterwards felt like waking up from a dream. A dream of a Polish girl too beautiful for words (who is not portrayed as arrogant or a villain or a bitch), a young boy trying to find his place in the world, a girl very conscious of the power of beauty (and her own perceived lack thereof), and a man lost and abandoned and desperate.
Rounded with a perfect ending (and Roza’s most badass moment of awesome!) that subverts the tropes of fairy tales, this was a wonderfully engaging, emotional book. It had just the right amount of fairy tale flavor, lovely writing, and a cast of amazing characters. Another excellent publication of 2015 – this is a strong year for speculative fiction with original ideas and character depth.
MY RATING: 9/10 – Close to perfection!