Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
This week, the National Book Foundation is releasing the longlists category by category, day by day, for the coveted National Book Award (winners will be announced November 18). Included among the 10 titles cited for “Young People’s Literature” is Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap. [I confess I have fingers, toes, eyeballs crossed for Nimona.]
A few months ago, I read (stuck in the ear, excitably narrated by Dan Bittner) the quirky hybrid – part contemporary coming-of-age (albeit the lack of constant screen addiction is refreshingly nostalgic), part other-world fantasy. For various reasons, I decided then I wouldn’t post about it, but the recent NBA announcement has landed the title here after all.
Quick-ish summary? Brothers Finn, 17, and Sean, 21, have spent the last two years living without their mother who ran off to Oregon with an orthodontist she met online. For a short, bright time, a mysterious young woman named Roza – initially found injured and hiding in the brothers’ barn – has helped create something that resembles a happy family. Then Roza disappears. Most of Bone Gap’s residents are convinced Roza – much like their mother – abandoned the boys, but Finn continues to insist he saw her being kidnapped, although he can’t seem to describe the abductor. While Sean broods, Finn falls in love for the first time, and finds an ally who believes in his visions. The most unexpected hero eventually saves everyone, including himself.
Love, betrayal, promises, magic, evil, and a rare illness called prosopagnosia, comprise an intriguing story, blending realism with a magical other world. Critics have recognized Bone Gap with starred reviews, and now this NBA-longlisted recognition … ah well, which is why silence seems no longer an option.[Spoiler alert, although I’ll try to keep the leakage to a minimum …]
Here’s the disturbing bottom line message about this contemporary fairy tale of good vs. evil: women are valued and victimized solely for their appearance. Roza – who is intelligent enough to get herself from her small village through university in Poland, and then to continue her education at an American university – is constantly threatened by others’ reactions to her beauty. She’s hunted, kidnapped, and imprisoned solely because she’s the “most beautiful” woman; freedom is only possible when she literally slices away that coveted beauty. In Bone Gap, teenage Petey is bullied and maligned because her face is considered so ugly; she can only be loved by a boy who is clinically unable to recognize, identify, comprehend faces.
What can you say about a (lauded) title that seems so dismissive, even abusive of girls and women? Its target audience is young readers, and girls read overwhelmingly more than boys. Now with an NBA-nod, it’s been granted further literary gravitas, with book sales surely trending substantially upward.
Bone Gap is not the first, and it certainly won’t the last of such titles in which women are so mistreated. It is, however, one of the most visceral I’ve ever encountered. I shudder. What else can I say, but … readers will read, but readers beware.
Readers: Young Adult