Recently I read Bone by Bone by Bone, by Tony Johnston. This is shelved with the middle grade books in my local library, but I believe some parents are probably not going to want their younger kids to read it. I may be among that group, although I'm still trying to sort through all the emotions the book touched off in me.
The setting for the story is a small town in Tennessee during the early 1950s. This was a time and place for a lot of racial clashes between black and white. The main character is a young white boy from a very prominent family. He is befriended by a black boy, and part of the story is a portrayal of the strong feelings the boys develop for each other. Overshadowing this beautiful story of love is a much darker tale of the hatred and fear that enveloped so many lives during that time.
I fell in love with David and Malcolm, the two young characters. One moment my heart was breaking at the hopelessness of their relationship, and the next moment I was shaking my head and chuckling at the antics they were getting into. The author's voice has such strength and depth of feeling, and her use of language is absolutely spot on. I especially love the tone and expressions she uses at particular times, such as when Malcolm tells Hell (the meanest rooster that ever lived) that he's going to eat him "squawk an' all." My family came from Tennessee, and this is the type of expression I grew up on, so I instantly felt a kinship with Ms. Johnston from the very first page.
This story, however, is made up more of instances of hatred than it is of love. It is brutally honest with no holds barred. I admire the author for her ability to pull this off without producing a quagmire of misery and hopelessness. She does come close to doing just that, and except for the strength of the youngest players, that very thing would have happened.
But the very subject matter is enough to make me squeamish about recommending it for middle graders. The language is raw, with no apologies made for it, but I realize it couldn't be more honest. That, too, is another reason for my concerns to recommend it to children. I don't believe the bad language was used in a gratuitous manner; I think it was more of an effort to portray things as they were. I can appreciate that and know the book is more honest because of it, but it still made me cringe from time to time.
I'll leave it up to you to decide for yourself. I rated the book highly because of the skill of the writing and the way I connected with the author's voice. I am not in any way recommending that any of my young readers put it on their TBR list. In fact, if you are tempted, I hope you will clear it with your parents first.
In the meantime,