October 08, 2015

Small Bones

Written by Vicki Grant
Orca Book Publishers
256 pp.
Ages 12+
September 29, 2015
Reviewed from audiobook

We’ve probably all wanted to reinvent ourselves but Dorothy (Dot) Blythe probably has more reasons than most.  With the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girl burned down and the eldest seven girls being sent away, with only a few scraps to help them determine their heritage, Dot doesn’t have that much to hold onto.  So it’s not surprising that when, dressed in a fine suit donated by the wealthy Mrs. Welsh, Dot does not reveal her orphan background to the young man, Eddie Nicholson, whom she meets on the train.  Eddie helps get her to the Dunbrae Arms, a lodge where she needs to get a job, after having been robbed of her money and finding her destination, a men’s clothing store named Howell’s of Buckminster, closed.  Seems the town of Buckminster is her go-to place for answers, being the name on the cashmere overcoat in which she had been swaddled when deposited at the Home.  Other than a few barely legible initials and a tiny silver spoon with a crest, Dot doesn’t have much to go on.  So with no money and Howell’s closed, she gets a job a a seamstress at the Dunbrae Arms.  And there she pursues her history, asking questions of the snarly Mrs. Smees, who runs the housekeeping for the lodge, and Bas Simmonds, the laundry man, as well as Eddie who seems to know everyone and begins to spend time with Dot.

But, it is evident that Dot’s small frame and face remind others of someone but the confusion  or even anger her presence evokes is never clear to her.   And then she is invited to a summer party to commemorate ByeBye Baby, the unexplained discovery of a tiny baby in the woods seventeen years earlier.  A baby that was seen but disappeared before help arrived.  Knowing she must have been that baby, Dot encourages Eddie to pursue the story–he is a summer reporter for the Buckminster Gleaner–so that she too might learn everything she can about that baby and the mystery surrounding it.  And I haven’t even mentioned the small bones that begin to appear around the seamstress’ cabin where Dot rooms.  Fragile, incomplete, and mysterious bones, probably those of birds.

Vicki Grant weaves a loaded story about a pregnancy that was kept hidden and a birth that was obscured from small-town gossip and yet so important as Dot’s seemingly insignificant origins.  The cover up about her birth may have been haphazard but it was effective in keeping the truth concealed.  And yet many individuals knew a little something about the event.  Some knew better than to talk about it, afraid of ruffling feathers, but others just didn’t realize that they knew anything important.  With astute questioning and biding her time, Dot is able to piece her story together from a patchwork of details, and though her story may have been a tad frayed around the edges–she does jump to a few incorrect assumptions–it is heart-warmingly trimmed with a happy ending or two.  In fact, Vicki Grant, with her light-touch and say-it-straight writing manner, makes sure that it’s “Better than any fantasy” (pg. 239) that Dot could ever have imagined.

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