Monday, April 25, 2011

Bone by Bone

Bone by Bone

Bone by Bone by TheMouseFiles on

Okay, it’s been a very long time since I finished my first fiction stack.  I think I am now on my third.

Three out of the nine titles in stack No. 1 were “fails” (i.e. I didn’t finish reading them), but there were also some real gems (i.e. books that were better than expected!)…AND I picked one to do my creative writing university-assignment on.  Which was really the point of this whole fiction blitz endeavour in the first place.  But I think I’ll leave that particular book until last, so you’ll have to try guess which one it was.  Hopefully.  If I ever get reviews up for the whole stack!

So, the next we have Bone by Bone, written by Tony Johnston, who is a female by the way.

I could have done my review assignment on this one – it was that good!  (But then I read another book and it was even better!)

David is nine.  He knows all the bones of the human body.  When he was born, his father hung a skeleton in his room and taught him the names, bone by bone by bone.  David is going to be a doctor like his father.

David’s best friend is Malcolm.  He knows the bone names too.

But this is Tennessee in the 1950s – the deep South of America, and a time of brutal racial intolerance and tension.  It’s the territory of the secret society of white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan – and Malcolm is black.

Drawing on her own childhood memories, Tony Johnston, one of America’s most revered writers, brings us a universal story of the innocent purity of friendship amidst the bone-chilling horror of racism. 

[blurb on the back cover]

Cast of Characters [Characterisation] ~
Tony Johnston begins this book with a personal note about times in Tennessee when she was growing up.  This book is obviously based on her experiences (which makes it even scarier).  You also get the suspicion that the ‘Father’ in Bone by Bone is based on Tony Johnston’s actual father – also scary.

You see all characters from nine-year-old David’s point of view.  They are introduced through his eyes, the book being written in first-person “I”, which I think means that  we get a really honest glimpse at them all.  Because children have that uncanny way of knowing exactly what is going on, even when people are hiding things. 

Each of Johnston’s characters are really vivid (I love vivid characters).  She uses a lot of dialogue to reveal character (short and peppery), and of course David’s inner thoughts.

Places we love [Setting] ~
Down in the deep south of the US of A in the 1950s.  Maybe I’m just an ignorant Australian but this is the picture I get.  Quiet streets, big white churches, guns, suits, ties and hats, floppy aprons, Buicks, hot summer days, guns, fried chicken, a dog with three legs, guns, Ku Klux Klan, a lynching, muted conversation, shouting, guns. 

I just can’t get over the fact that guns were pointed at people.  On your porch.  At dinner time if it so happened.   

Bricks and Mortar [Structure] ~
Tension builds gradually throughout the story.  It’s a classic beginning to end format, no flashbacks or diary entries, etc. 

Johnston puts in a lot of pithy and simple descriptions of people and places.  Usually a description is adding to the story, like an antidote of Sunday mornings in church, which is followed by a description of Malcolm’s negro church – which is so similar to the white-only church we are left wondering why they aren’t all just in together. 

What’s that sparkle? [Style] ~
This is a book aimed at youngish adults/teenagers, so the style is pretty simple and straightforward, but I think that purposely brings out the ‘bare bones’ of this story.  It’s written in the first person, from a nine-year-old’s point of view, which I think is what really makes the story so special.  Why?  Not just because we get insight into a little boy’s obsession with amputated body parts, mud fights, and other generally disgusting things… but because we see violent and aggressive racism through his eyes.  He is confused, bemused, and scared for his friend…and so are we.

I would be scared to write a book about racism that actually blossomed into murder.  And so I should be, all I know of it is what I’ve read.
Tony Johnston, on the other hand, experienced it in her own life.  I admire her for writing this book to young people, because it’s really her protest against what happened…and what still might happen.
It must have been hard to write.  The Dedication on the second page reads: “For Daddy.  Some wounds never heal.”  But I think the brutal honesty is what makes this book such a read.   

Sundries ~
There is a lot of swearing.  The author writes: “Though some people may be offended by it, I do not apologise for the raw language used in this book.  It is my father’s language and reflects a way of thinking that has troubled my whole life.”

Also, this book isn’t for the faint-hearted or squeamish.  But it’s also fun and light in some parts!  I hope I haven’t described a dark, scary, racist story.  It is that in some parts, but it’s done so well I would recommend it.  My brother is even reading it at the moment, and he is SUPER picky with his novels.  If the title just sounds boring he won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Bone by Bone
Tony Johnston
The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne Australia, 2008

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