Review of The Bone Garden by Heather Kassner

“Remember, my dear, you do not really and truly exist.”
Made of dust and bone and imagination, Irréelle fears she’s not quite real. Only the finest magical thread tethers her to life—and to Miss Vesper. But for all her efforts to please her cruel creator, the thread is unraveling. Irréelle is forgetful as she gathers bone dust. She is slow returning from the dark passages beneath the cemetery. Worst of all, she is unmindful of her crooked bones.
When Irréelle makes one final, unforgivable mistake by destroying a frightful creature just brought to life, Miss Vesper threatens to imagine her away once and for all. Defying her creator for the very first time, Irréelle flees to the underside of the graveyard and embarks on an adventure to unearth the mysterious magic that breathes bones to life, even if it means she will return to dust and be no more.

Firstly I would like to say a huge thank you to Titan Books for sending me a copy of this book for review. The cover is beautifully creepy and eye catching, if I saw it in the bookshop it would probably be a cover buy! I’m not going to lie though, this was one hard book to get into, I just don’t think that the writing style was for me or it could be that it’s just different than what I’m used to reading, I’ll admit I had really got into the flow by about halfway through and was glad I stuck with it.

The idea is wonderful and Irreelle is a character full of empathy. When we first meet her gathering bone dust, her care for the dead is respectful and touching and I liked how she found comfort and a whole new world of imagination underneath the graveyard. I think we can all identify with being so caught up in something that brings us joy that we forget our purpose. But for Irreelle that keeps on happening. There are a number of traditional middle grade themes running through the story with just the right amount of spooky dread, a healthy dose of friendship, learning to trust, and an intriguing mystery to solve. Sadly, there is a bittersweet feel throughout as Irreelle can’t be happy in the body she is in and she strives to be made real.

Miss Vesper was a bit of an enigma, I actually kind of liked her as she didn’t really come across to me as truly evil. Portrayed very much the villain of the piece, she wasn’t as terrifying as I would expect given the nod to Grimm’s tales in the dedication, but then this is MG level so I think she’s on a par with what I would be ok with my daughter reading. She had a quiet desperation to her though and an infinite sadness coming through whilst she tries to create what she has lost through bone dust and imagination. Whilst I found “The Hand” nicely comic, it felt too much like Thing from the Addams Family for me which kind of detracted from the rest of the story, but for most MG readers it will feel like a new concept which works really well in the setting.

Entirely character driven, there isn’t much scope for world building and what is there feels very muted, almost like watching a black and white movie, but that does open up for imagination which is such a pivotal focus of this book. The grey backdrop makes every sound seem like an echo, every creaking step or squeaking doorknob feel about to snap with tension. The small bursts of colour, like the flowers in Miss Vesper’s vase, are like paint drops on paper. The author does a great job of making every sense feel heightened through the bleakness.

The Bone garden is an interesting read full of memorable characters. I found it enjoyable for the most part with a slow build up to an exciting finale.



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