published in 2015
This is a book I wouldn’t have read if not for Tiemen tweet offering it as a review copy from ABC. I put my hand up because the cover looked interesting and I’m happy I did so. It’s always a risk committing to a book when you neither known what the book will about nor the author herself. I didn’t even realise this was supposed to be a Young Adult book, not that you could tell from the cover unless you already knew Balzer + Bray is a HarperCollins YA imprint.
Bone Gap is an old story, of a girl coming in the life of two brothers, then disappearing again. Kidnapped, according to the younger brother. Left just like their mother left them, according to everybody else in Bone Gap, a small town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by corn fields and not much else. That Finn thinks Roza was kidnapped, yet couldn’t even give a good description of what her kidnapper looked like, well, he’s always been a dreamer, a moon gazer, sidetracked easily, not even able or willing to look people in the eyes. Not even his brother Sean believes him; easier to believe she left just like their mother left them. But of course Finn is right. Roza was abducted, by a man who wants her to love him and promises he won’t touch her until she wants to.
Squint a bit and Roza’s rich, powerful and mysterious kidnapper looks a lot like a fairy tale prince, riding out on a white horse to kiss strange girls awake from their coma without being asked. He takes her away from her humble home and installs her in a castle where her every whim can be catered too, gives her the best food to eat, the best dresses to wear, servants to clothe her and as he constantly assures her, his absolute conviction that she is the most beautiful woman in the world. In a fairy tale that sort of behaviour may be charming; here it’s creepy, even without the whole kidnapping aspect to things. The assumption that he knows what’s best for her while refusing to even consider her own desires, that’s the mark of the abuser.. Her kidnapper treats Roza like a thing, a possession, rather than a human being.
Because Bone Gap opens with Flynn as the viewpoint character, wandering around town being angry at not being believed about Roza’s kidnapping, I feared Roza herself would be only present as victim. Fortunately, this isn’t the case. Kept prisoner in a series of increasingly strange “homes”, she attempts to escape and fight back. She seems to be aware she’s in a fairy tale situation, as she’s careful not to eat or drink from the sumptuous food her kidnapper provides for her, consisting on bread and water. It’s also Roza who, in the climax to the story, comes up with the way to finally free herself, without making Flynn’s efforts unnecessary.
Flynn meanwhile doesn’t know he’s in a fairy tale. Angry as he is at not being believed about Roza’s kidnapping, there isn’t anything constructive he can let out his anger on, so instead he gets into fights with the Rudes, Bone Gap’s resident bullies, which isn’t helped by his inability to tell them apart. What also doesn’t help Flynn is the refusal of his brother to talk about Roza’s disappearance and the general disbelief of the people of Bone Gap, their view of him as nice but dimwitted, distracted, a dreamer.
Petey, the daughter of a local bee keeper, is somebody else who’s hemmed in by people’s perceptions of her. They call her strange, ugly and of course, as inevitable with every girl like that, “easy”. She’s abrasive and defensive, but despite this Flynn has always found her interesting and attractive. Over the course of the story they get drawn together, especially after strange things start happening to Flynn. Things like finding a strange horse in their barn, a horse that’s more than it seems to be. A horse that might hold the key to rescuing Roza. Petey is another viewpoint character, not just there to become Flynn’s girlfriend or prize, but somebody who helps solve one part of the puzzle, by realising what might cause Flynn’s inability to recognise people.
What I like about Bone Gap is that this is a fantastical story deeply embedded in, not standing outside of the overwhelming mundanity of life in Bone Gap. Roza’s kidnapper fore example is a fairy tale villain but also not that much different from other creeps she’s had had to deal with back home in Poland as well as in America and the story explicitly makes this connection. Just like Flynn’s “weirdness” and difference from everybody else in Bone Gap has a thoroughly mundane explanation as well as a more mystical one, without the one being the excuse for the other. What I also like is how Flynn, Roza and Petey all have their role to play in resolving the mystery of Roza’s kidnapping, that it isn’t just Flynn’s story, but theirs as well.
Bone Gap is a novel about love, both romantic and otherwise, about growing up, about changing your own view of who you are, forcing yourself to grow beyond other people’s views of you. It’s not just the villain who attempts to force Roza into his view of her, who has to be defeated for her and flynn and Petey to be free. It’s a fantasy novel in mundane drag, with echoes of some very old myths running through it. It may have been published by a YA publisher, but there’s plenty of things for an adult reader to find interesting too.