This acclaimed young adult novel by Laura Ruby is high in concept; there’s magical realism, Greek mythology, dueling storylines and points of view, beekeeping, feminism, face blindness, immigration, forced marriage (sort of), pet chickens, and a lot more. There’s so much going on that, for me, the book ended up falling short on the most important things, most notably characters I could care about. The characters were vessels for the concepts, rather than real people.
The story is set in the small town of Bone Gap where brothers Finn and Sean have lived on their own ever since their mother fell in love with an orthodontist she met online and left them. Sean gave up his plans to become a doctor and stayed in Bone Gap to take care of Finn as he finishes school. Finn is known to be a bit spacy, a fact that gets him bullied by the neighboring Rude boys. The brothers are also coping with the sudden disappearance of Roza, a young Polish woman who appeared mysteriously one day and became part of their family only to be snatched away by a man Finn saw but can’t describe. Sean, who was falling in love with Roza, doesn’t know what to think. Finn, meanwhile, is falling in love himself, with the Petey, also known as Priscilla, a girl looked down on for her bee-like appearance and her reputation.
Roza, we soon learn, is being held captive by a man who initially appears to be an ordinary kidnapper but whose monstrous nature soon becomes more evident. And Roza’s imprisonment isn’t as simple as being locked in a basement. She’s been carried away to another world. Somehow Bone Gap itself is full of gaps that people can slip into, sometimes without even meaning to, as Finn learns when he begins taking a massive mare that suddenly appears in his barn out for long nighttime rides. It’s all very strange. And, to give Ruby credit, the many threads pull together beautifully in the end. This book is well-constructed. And I can appreciate that the book riffs on Greek mythology without spelling out the connections.
Besides being admirable for its structure, the book has good things to say about the importance of respect between the sexes and women’s ability to find their own power. And there are interesting ideas here about beauty and sex and women being valued for themselves. The people around them define Roza and Petey by their looks, even though they are more than their looks. But isn’t this obvious? And I think the way the story was resolved subverts the good point she’s making and ends up making these young women’s looks the whole point again.
This book has received great reviews, and I can see why. But, for me, it wasn’t a book to fall in love with. It’s a well-made piece of fiction, but I could see the workings too well. When I compare it to something like The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, with its even more elaborate mythology and even stronger depictions of relationships between young men and women, I end up appreciating the seeming effortlessness of The Raven Boys. When I read those books, I forget for a while that I’m entering into a story someone made, even though I know Stiefvater crafts her stories carefully. That’s the kind of reading experience I love best. It’s not what I got from Bone Gap, as much as I admired the effort.