Michelle's Reviews > The Boneshaker

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
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Jun 29, 11

it was amazing
bookshelves: young-adult, steampunk, favorites
Read in January, 2011 — I own a copy

I have put off reviewing The Boneshaker for some time now because it leaves me feeling absolutely inadequate to the task. It is quite possibly one of the best books I have ever read.

The Boneshaker is the story of Natalie Minks, a young tomboy with a passionate love of all things mechanical. Few things give her more pleasure than tinkering with her father on their automata, unless it is perhaps her red Chesterlane, a beautiful boneshaker of a bicycle he built for her. Except that she cannot ride it just yet. She has grown up in a small Missouri town near a crossroads, listening to her mother's fantastical stories of the town and it's people, because all things are possible at a crossroad. And it is in this way that The Boneshaker becomes a story of stories. Tom Guyot's victory over the devil with a guitar that can talk. The mysterious drifter. Simon Cofferett's frightening jump, and his uncanny youth for one who has lived just outside town as long as anyone can remember. When 'Dr. Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show' comes into town with intricate automata, fantastic healing machines and miraculous cures, Natalie begins to realize there is more truth in her mother's stories than she previously suspected.

Though a steampunk novel (for kids!), The Boneshaker is so much more. There are layers upon layers to it. The language is so evocative of the region and time about which she writes that her fantasy feels like truth. This absolutely could have been Missouri in 1914, it just wasn't. It makes me think of my Grandmother, and the way she would say, "sometimes it's easier to see the truth when it's in a story." Everything about it feels real from the dusty roads under her bicycle tires to the taunting boys down the lane. You can hear the music as Tom Guyot plays. No, really. You can.

"Tom's humming turned into strange syllables, sounds that weren't words but sort of broken pieces of words, bits and bobs of song dodging and darting over and around and under the music of the guitar, rising and falling and ducking, and every once in a while climbing sharp and clear and plaintive...

It made a strange tableau, and plenty of people paused to look: the old black man singing blissfully with the guitar flashing sunset colors on his knees; and the sweaty, bruised, and scraped girl, unmoving and rapt, absently holding on to a bizarre bicycle with her head cocked like a bird's. Neither of them noticed anyone else's stares." (p32-33)


It is like Milford lifted the essence, the very life force, of the folklore of an entire region, and slipped it into her novel. I could feel my grandparents in it. I could hear the echos or their parents. I caught myself, over and over again, stopping to savor something I had just read. As soon as I finished the book, I immediately read it again, only out load to my husband and son. We spent weeks lingering over it, bellowing to sell wares or whispering in fear. It almost feels wrong to NOT have the Boneshaker become the very oral history it describes.

The Boneshaker is the kind of book that will grow with you. A mid-grade reader could pick it up and be entranced by the mystery, captivated by Natalie's courage. A few years later, they may better understand the fear motivating the choices Natalie's father and brother made about her mother; grasp the deeper, darker elements of the story that are always running just under the surface. It talks about darkness and light, good and bad, courage and weakness in a way that just leaves me breathless at times for its beauty. The different meanings of this book are so multilayerd that different readers of different ages will experience what is happening in very different ways, none of them wrong. If I could, I would give a copy of this book to every boy or girl I know. Adults, too.
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Quotes Michelle Liked

Kate Milford
“When there's evil standing in your way, you got to get around it however you can, Natalie. You got to look it in the eye, let it know you see it and that it can't creep up on you. What's dangerous is pretending it isn't there at all and letting it get closer and closer while you're looking someplace else, until suddenly evil's walking alongside you like you were two friends out for a stroll on Sunday. So you look it in the face. You tell it with your eyes that you know what it is, that it don't have you fooled. You tell it you know what GOOD looks like.”
Kate Milford, The Boneshaker

Kate Milford
“Most things cost something you can give up, but they aren’t worth anything – not really, not in the end. But some things . . . some have to be given free, because if you had to put a price on them, their true value would be too great for any one person to afford.”
Kate Milford, The Boneshaker


Comments (showing 1-4)




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message 4: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim Wonderful review! This looks great. I am ordering it.


message 3: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim I got this one, and it really looks wonderful! Great pick - now all I need is some kind of time-expansion tool...


Michelle Seriously, I really would hand copies of this book out to everyone if I could. It is so wonderful, and so evocative. I hope you enjoy it! (And, yes, there are just so many books and so little time...)


message 1: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim I am sure that I will enjoy it, and if you get any ideas about time expansion, please let me know! (every time I get on this site I come away with at least a half-dozen must-read book ideas)


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