Publilsher: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: May 8, 2012
Meet ten-year-old Bones, whose playground is the Florida swamps, brimming with mystical witches, black bears, alligators and bobcats. Bones' father, Nolay, a Miccosukee Indian, is smart and mischievous. Her Mama, practical as corn bread, can see straight into Bones' soul.
It's summer, and Bones is busy hunting and fishing with her best friend, Little Man. But then two Yankee real estate agents trespass on her family's land, and Nolay scares them off with his gun. When a storm blows in and Bones and Little Man uncover something horrible at the edge of the Loo-chee swamp, the evidence of foul play points to Nolay. The only person that can help Nolay is Sheriff LeRoy, who's as slow as pond water. Bones is determined to take matters into her own hands. If it takes a miracle, then a miracle is what she will deliver.
One of my favorite uncles growing up was my Uncle Joe. He was big, larger than life even. He could sing like Hank Williams. He was a gifted storyteller who usually focused more on the quality of the story than the truth. He had that quintessential southern accent -- smooth and warm, it would roll through you like good whiskey. He could make a mean boiling pot -- with Uncle Joe, food went beyond nourishment and became an event. He was an amazing and skilled hunter and fisherman. And (as odd as it may sound coming from this nearly life-long vegetarian) it was partly his love of nature and animals that helped inspire my own. He was a drifter by nature, unlike Nolay (see! I didn't forget the book!), because his roots were not a place but people. Like a boomerang he always circled back to us. Of all the stopping places he found, the one that lasted the longest in my memory was Alabama. He fell equally in love with the swamp and the Gulf; and, for a man who seldom did such things, he could wax poetically about both. Uncle Joe was also a lot like Nolay in that he always seemed to have something to prove -- to himself and everyone else. He was fiercely protective of us, his family, both as people and ideas. Somehow, after he died, we became a little less a unit and more a collection of people. He had a temper, and he didn't always make the best choices. But, like Bones, I didn't see that when I was a child. All I saw was this amazingly smart man who could do anything except wrong.
These similarities, of course, made my immersion into Precious Bones both quick and thorough. Despite my personal parallels that made this book particularly compelling, I think many readers will find it equally compelling without them. Ashley-Hollinger writes with such evocative, eloquent beauty that it just sucks you in and won't let go. The mystery is fabulous, but the biggest reveals aren't necessarily related to the mystery. Precious Bones is also a luscious coming of age story, a story about seeing people as they really are and still accepting them.
Oddly enough, my biggest complaints about Precious Bones are also some of the things I loved most. I love that Ashley-Hollinger includes regional dialect. I also love the sweeping descriptions of her surroundings. There is such a sense of place in Precious Bones. However, upon closer examination, her descriptions don't make sense in the context of Bone's first person narration. Bones has neither the education and experience for the similes and metaphors used, nor the vocabulary to have described many things as she did. As an adult I found the descriptions poignant and apt, but many would have flown right over my son's head without further clarification and definition. Also, despite the fact that I agree with all of Ashley-Hollinger's "messages" within the book, they were not exactly subtle. I would hate for that to be what turned kids away from an otherwise beautiful and interesting book.
And, for your listening and viewing pleasure, the song that played through my head for most of my reading -- Hank Williams Jambalaya:
3.5 of 5 Stars
This review also appears on Goodreads; a review copy was provided by the publisher.