Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Eighteen-year-old Finn O'Sullivan doesn't look anyone in the eye, but the small town of Bone Gap accepts his idiosyncrasies until the day Roza disappears. As the only eye-witness, Finn watched her leave and is not sure if she went of her own free will or was kidnapped. Finn along with his older brother, Sean, try to cope with two people abandoning them in their lives. Their mother had left them for an orthodontist a few years earlier spoiling Sean's plans to go to medical school and leaving Finn in his care. Finn can't describe the man Roza left with in great detail and blames himself for letting her go or not rescuing her.
The various points of view include Roza's story that takes a magical turn when her abductor does the impossible of creating alternate worlds and answering her any wish, (except the only one that matters which is to set her free). The author shrouds Roza in mystery slowly unveiling her past, providing good pacing and tension. When a magical black horse shows up and Finn takes interest in Petey, an unattractive peer, the mystery or myth starts to unfold and take shape drawing all the different elements and genres into a satisfying ending.
*spoiler* I'll try not to reveal too much of the plot.
Comparisons with the Greek myth of Persephone and Roza are obvious. Persephone represents the harvest and fertility of vegetation. Much imagery is devoted to Roza who can grow anything in the boy's garden, goes to school for botany, and whose plants wilt and die after she leaves. In the myth Persephone's beauty draws unwanted attention from other gods and when Hades kidnaps her she becomes Queen of the Underworld. Roza's preternatural beauty causes her to be abducted by a man in a black SUV who gives her anything she wants but won't let her leave his domain; there is even a reference to pomegranates. Roza has had to deal with unwanted attention from men in the past and she reflects on it while imprisoned.
When a magical black horse shows up at Finns house, he and Petey take some midnight rides that don't seem quite real as the horse leaps distances that are impossible. I knew I was missing the significance of this reference and it wasn't until I read a Maile Meloy's New York Times article did she remind me that Persephone's mother, Demeter, went in the form of a black horse. She's referring to the myth where Poseidon raped Demeter when she was searching for Persephone; they were in the form of horses and she became pregnant from the episode. The river in the book is surreal too and reminded me of the River Styx.
The subplot of Finn falling in love with Petey and the idea of beauty evolves throughout the story. Roza and Petey are judged by their appearances but the two do not let the world define them as such. Roza is competent and practical. She can stitch up a gash, grow enough food for the three, and jump out of a moving car to save herself from unwanted attentions. Petey, who is considered ugly, determines that she is interesting, even beautiful, inside. The way Petey reflects about this through the science of bees is fascinating and not overly technical.
Finn and Sean, as characters, must deal with male expectations. Sean is expected to be a conventional hero and save Roza, but he is broken and hurt inside from being abandoned by his mother. Finn, being good-looking and "pretty", is attracted to what society would label an unattractive girl. Both boys have to come to terms with societal versus individual expectations and find the courage to be true to themselves. The author's deft character development is one of many elements well done in this tale. Don't miss it.