In this stand-alone coming-of-age mystery, the town of Bone Gap, Illinois has mostly small town charm, but a few residents think it is a little unusual. Perhaps it isn’t just the town but the people too? Finn O’Sullivan has never been “quite right,” as the rumor goes. After his father died and his mother left town for a new life and husband, the only family he had left was his older brother, Sean, whose college plans changed to a career as an EMT. Neither Sean nor Finn is prepared when they find a girl, dirty and much abused, hiding in their barn. They offer her a home, however temporary, and it’s like she belongs to them, and they to her, or perhaps they’ve found each other at just the right time.
Roza and Finn are close friends, while Roza and Sean slip slowly into love and Sean is preparing to ask her to marry him. Suddenly, Roza disappears and leaves everyone stunned and mourning, even the townsfolk of Bone Gap. No one believes poor Finn when he swears she was kidnapped by a dangerous man, not even his brother; in fact, the townsfolk might even believe Finn O’Sullivan did something to Roza. While Finn tries to process her disappearance and his brother’s reluctance to go after her, he discovers another surprise in the barn, a mare that seems magical. Through his and the mare’s wanderings, Finn becomes closer to Priscilla, “Petey” Willis, the beekeeper’s unusual spitfire daughter. Petey brings out the best in Finn and as their relationship blooms, Finn finds new courage but learns of secrets that change his self-perception. This new awareness enables him to find out what happened to Roza in a wild attempt to save what is left of his family.
*Winner of the 2016 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and a National Book Award finalist.
My summary fails to capture the ethereal magic and captivating use of language that characterizes this novel. I loved how the reader really can’t trust the characters and also cannot predict the plot. Author Ruby presents various viewpoints in the novel to juxtapose with the main narrator, Finn, thereby revealing that our perception of Finn is vastly different from the opinion others have of him. This use of characterization is most excellently well done, as each character credibly feels like a real person with a unique voice, strong feelings, and perspective. Then, add in the mysterious setting, the disappeared but strongly present Roza, and underlying themes of love, truth, and acceptance, and this novel won’t stop surprising you. While this book may appeal to more literary or older teens, the overall quality and dearth of details speak to the hard-won praise and mark a story that will stay with any age of reader, teen or adult.
Notes: Themes of violence and sexual abuse are noted only in subtext of story.