If you like your stories spooky, dark, and full of the power of love and self-belief, then you can’t let yourself miss The Bone Garden!
Book: The Bone Garden by Heather Kassner
Read before: No
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Titan Books. All opinions my own.
The Bone Garden is a gorgeous read. If I had to choose one word to describe this book, it would be ‘atmospheric’ – from the moment you pick it up, you can tell you’re going to get a creepy, Gothic read, and the inside matches the cover perfectly. The swirls from the cover are continued as chapter break images, which definitely adds to the Gothic feel. I do have to say, though, that I absolutely hated the font. I like books to have a font so simple it fades into the background, but I found this one really obtrusive. It’s a minor point, but it did mean I struggled to get into the beginning of the book.
The story follows Irréelle, a girl made of bone dust and magic, as she tries to follow the instructions of her creator, Miss Vesper. The tension between the two is exquisitely written, as Irréelle tries desperately to win her cruel guardian’s approval, but can never seem to make her happy. This in itself is creepy, let alone that Irréelle’s tasks involve collecting bone dust from the nearby catacombs. When Irréelle meets Miss Vesper’s earlier creation, Guy, her world changes enormously, and she is able to start believing in herself – the key theme is how the power of platonic love can help give a person a sense of belonging and let them trust in themself; it’s a beautiful message, and well put across.
This is a really weird one to categorise in a particular age range, as it seems to sit between middle grade and YA, without being the sort of book I’d usually categorise as a cross-over. The protagonists are pre-teens (ish – it’s a little complicated!), and the themes are based on friendship and family love, without any romance for the main characters; and yet, the background story seems well-suited to YA, with its gothic doomed love affairs and sort-of necromancy, and I think it will appeal to both age categories. The UK cover says YA, but the US cover looks middle grade. This probably would have been too dark for me as a kid, so I think it’s definitely going to be a case of age-appropriateness gauged reader-by-reader; however, there’s nothing actually objectionable for younger readers, so I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily off-limits. Their tolerance for discussion of death is about the only measure needed.
Despite the sinister setting, this is actually a surprisingly heartwarming story about the power of believing in yourself and your friends. Fans of Chris Wooding’s Poison, or Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, should feel right at home. Four out of five cats!