Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Bone Gap”

Lovely. If I was describing Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap in one word, “lovely” would be it.

As anyone will tell you who’s seen my one two three four bookshelves, my taste in books is somewhat eclectic. I read everything from stylistically-bizarre literary fiction (looking at you, A House in the Country) to lean-and-mean, plot-driven urban fantasy. And I love it all.

Often, I walk away with an overarching impression of why I loved a particular book. For The Historian, it was “research”–Elizabeth Kostovo does an amazing job of digging into her various histories and settings, then weaving them into a riveting story. For The Night Circus, it was “atmosphere”–Erin Morgenstern evokes her novel’s incredible magical landscape with language and imagination lush and dark.

At first glance, Bone Gap doesn’t sound super unique. It’s about a girl who goes missing, and the boy who’s the only witness to the kidnapping. Any one of a dozen thrillers could be summed up the same way.

But Bone Gap‘s treatment of this story sets it completely apart, weaving a layered, atmospheric magical realism novel with evocative language and hand-to-your-heart themes of love and persevering hope. Since finishing Bone Gap, I’ve found my thoughts wandering back to it again and again.

There’s a reason it was a Printz Award Winner and National Book finalist.

Beautiful Roza appears in Bone Gap, Illinois under mysterious circumstances. But her goodness has the small town quickly falling in love with her–no one more so than Sean, Finn’s stoic brother. The day Roza disappears, Sean’s world crumbles; he’s sure she left by choice. But Finn knows Roza was taken–he saw someone do it. No one can find evidence of Finn’s claims, though. And as everyone knows, Finn’s always been a bit… odd.

Bone Gap follows Roza’s fight to escape her rather unusual captor, and Finn’s struggle to overthrow the guilty self-doubt that keeps him from finding Roza–and himself. A thread of myth is subtly entwined through the tale, too. But I won’t tell you which story inspired Bone Gap, as unknotting that mystery is half the fun. 🤔

Interwoven with the action/mystery component of the plot is an explication of what it means to love, to truly see another person, to persevere in hope. Without a moment of heavy-handedness, Ruby unfolds two romances full of bittersweet, restorative, and piercing moments. Bone Gap explores the wonder of what it is to be alone, isolated… then feel a hand reaching in to pull you free.

The writing of Bone Gap is beautiful, too. I stopped to re-read certain passages for the sheer loveliness of the language. Yet there is nothing pretentious in the writing style or imagery. With easy, organic skill, Ruby summons both the subtle mystery of Midwestern cornfields and the unnerving beauty of more fantastical settings.

In fact, Ruby’s voice is perfect for a magical realism novel, as she masters the looseness of language that allows for a magical or realistic interpretation of events. While weaving a story concrete enough for readers to follow, she nevertheless leaves generous room for reader interpretation, imagination. This is part of what has repeatedly drawn me back to Bone Gap–What exactly do I think happened? What could that flourish of imagery or characterization have meant?

In the end, Bone Gap is somewhat challenging to describe. But I stand by my initial assessment–it’s lovely. If you like magical realism, or beauty with the tiniest twist of the weird, or stories that are equal parts gracefully-unfolded plot and heart, or writing that imbues even something as everyday as cornfields with an ethereal quality, then Bone Gap belongs on your to-read list.

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