May 29, 2019

A Box of Bones

Written by Marina Cohen
Roaring Brook Press
288 pp.
Ages 8-12
May 2019

Sometimes people need lies. Little lies to help them deal with truths that are too huge and too difficult to face. (pg. 273)
Twelve-year-old Kallie is only interested in facts and the organized and logical world that she and her father, who works in risk management for an insurance company, live in. She has no appreciation for the arts, turning her nose up at music and seeing stories as "ugly little lies wrapped in pretty packages" (pg. 59), going so far as to refer to her dead mother only with disdain as "The Writer." Unfortunately, the world seems to want something different for her than she expects.

While at the buskers' Festival of Fools with her Grandpa Jess, Kallie is handed a small puzzle box seemingly made of bone. After much work to open it, nine smaller cubes fall out of the box, each with its own unique image. Strangely, no matter how she drops these cubes, they always land in the same order: an animal, a goblet, an oval with holes, a castle, a cylinder with flames, a coffin, a skull, a long pointed object, and a blank. Soon, Kallie's life, thrown off kilter by a new imaginative student named Anna and by secrets she is learning regarding her mother's death, is following a path based on those bone images, starting with a strange animal with amethyst eyes that appears to her.

Interspersed with Kallie's story is one of Liah, a bone carver's apprentice. In her story, distinguished to the reader by its italics font, Liah and the bone carver are heading to the evil Empress's palace to sell his carvings, travelling through an ancient forest haunted by those whose bones were buried without ancestral care. Heedless of the bone carver's warnings, Liah removes a skull, hopeful of carving something special from it. But their foray into the palace becomes something dangerous for the bone carver and Liah after a Lie-peddler they meet confronts the Empress with his stories.
There is such a thing as too much truth. (pg. 272)
How Kallie's and Liah's journeys are related is only revealed at the end of Marina Cohen's latest middle grade novel but they are entwined, both learning that
...a good story never really ends. It lives on inside you forever (pg. 222)
and that truths and lies are not very different, both necessary and still tenuous.

While Marina Cohen does creepy middle-grade really, really well–do check out several of her earlier novels such as The Inn Between (2016) and The Doll's Eye (2017)–A Box of Bones tells a great mystery without worries of keeping young readers up at night. There are eerie bits, both in Kallie's and Liah's stories, but they add to the mysteriousness, demonstrating that not everything is straightforward, logical or expected, just like life, and that stories give life as well as honour it.

1 comment:

  1. I like Marina Cohen's writing. This one sounds great!