I've read other things by Dunkle before (The Hollow Kingdom, The House of Dead Maids), and one of the things I really like about her is that she seems...moreI've read other things by Dunkle before (The Hollow Kingdom, The House of Dead Maids), and one of the things I really like about her is that she seems willing to confront the darker aspects, the things that make you uncomfortable. This is something I've come to associate with her, and I really do like it. But another thing I've come to associate with Dunkle is stories that come so close to making me feel the need to push them into everybody's hands, but not quite making it. This was true of By These Ten Bones. I think I wanted to love it more than I did, and I wanted to want to push it on everybody - but I didn't. This makes it sound like I didn't like it, or even that I was disappointed with it, neither of which is very accurate. I do want to push it on recommend it to some people, but not everybody. I just...it always felt like there was just some barrier we couldn't push through. The story and I were held back by something, something was missing and I don't know what it was. But I could feel it.
Alright, this is the weirdest analogy ever (maybe only topped by my soup vs. Soup analogy), but say you were eating your favorite ice cream sundae, and it's delicious; it has scoops of rich chocolate and fragrant vanilla ice cream topped off with nuts and cherries and sprinkles and whatever the hell else you put on it. And you like it, it's good - but something's missing, and you can't figure out what until you get to the last bite and you realize you forgot the damn caramel sauce. It's still a really good sundae, but you know how much better it can be with the little addition of that salty-sweet caramel, and now you're disappointed.
That's sort of how this is. Or maybe it's not like that at all. (I mean, it's a book, not a sundae. And why do all of my analogies have food?) But something about this book left me feeling incomplete, and it wasn't big enough to really stand out, but rather left me with that subtle nagging feeling that something that would put it over the top, something that would make me love it instead of like it, was missing. And I really don't know how else to explain it.
Part of me feels like maybe it was just a by-product of the style. It's very folkloric, very sparse in style and even in plot, pared back and bare bones. It's told very simply and somewhat slowly, too, and maybe that's what left me with that nagging feeling - maybe I wanted something more lyrical, or something I could connect to more, emotionally? Either way, the style does work for the story and does help build something really atmospheric and foreboding. There's a good sense of place and tension, and I worried for the characters and how everything would turn out. I also feel like it's something I would read again, maybe even multiple times. But I don't think everyone will connect to it - I think it will be too spare, too simple, or too weird for some people to get past.
But for those who do, they'll find a really interesting tale of Otherness unlike most of the YA fare out there, and one that is worth their time. Even if there is an indefinable something missing... (less)