For my February finale, I’d planned to follow up on my last post with a look at my favorite series of fairy tale retellings: Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles. But I just couldn’t wait any longer to recommend three March releases in a different genre—literary horror. Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us, and Camille DeAngelis’ Bones & All show how eloquent and imaginative prose can amplify horrific events and our most primal fears.
Like a classic horror movie, Bone Gap is set in a stereotypical Midwestern town, with cornfields that haunt the main protagonist, Finn. They talk to him and grow at an alarming rate, among spooky scarecrows and crows that threaten to pluck out his eyes and peck him to death. Like a chorus in a Greek play, the people of Bone Gap introduce Finn as a freak, calling him Spaceman, Sidetrack, and Moonface because he is distracted and avoids eye contact. Finn’s strange behavior is more understandable when he becomes a main narrator and the horror story develops. Two months ago, he was the only witness to the disappearance of Roza, his brother’s girlfriend. While the people of Bone Gap stop looking for her because they think she fled, Finn believes she was kidnapped and he must find her, but he can’t recall what her abductor looks like.
Roza’s narrative reveals that a man with eyes like ice has taken her because she is a beautiful woman who will love him. Her abduction seems mythical (think Persephone) and Bone Gap uses magical realism to emphasize its sinister nature. But while the captured woman is often powerless and voiceless in myths, Roza has agency and willpower. Bone Gap emphasizes the victimization of women that is typical of horror and empowers “the damsel in distress.”
Also told through alternate voices, The Walls Around Us is a creepy supernatural tale, combining prison drama and dance rivalry — “Orange is the New Black meets Black Swan” as some reviewers have called it. There’s Amber, imprisoned in a girls’ juvenile detention center, and Violet, a dancer haunted by her best friend Orianna’s imprisonment and death in that detention center. The book opens with Amber experiencing a phenomenal event: suddenly the prisoners are set free from their cells. But she is a ghost reliving what happened years ago, and they didn’t really escape.
In her first narrative, Violet is onstage during her last performance before achieving her dream of attending Julliard. But she feels broken: on stage, she loves people and they love her, but offstage she is haunted by dark memories and secrets. During intermission she visits the site where a crime took place three years earlier, leading to Orianna’s arrest. Enthralling prose and magical realism unite the stories of Amber, Violet, and Orianna, and explore complex issues of lies and truth, disadvantage and privilege, wrongdoing and justice, guilt and innocence, betrayal and friendship, vengeance and forgiveness.
Bones & All wrestles with similar issues, and it is not your typical horror story, nor is Maren Yearly your typical villain. Like most teenagers (and humans, for that matter) she wants to belong and feel normal, be loved and love herself; but a dark secret keeps her ashamed and alienated. In the opening scene, we learn that Maren devours people, starting with her babysitter when she was just a few years old. She tries to distance herself from everyone emotionally and physically, but if they do get close it’s not like she can’t not eat them. Then she and her mother have to move again…and again. While living with her secret is difficult, as long as she has her mom everything turns out okay; but she wakes up on her 16th birthday to discover her mom has abandoned her, leaving behind her birth certificate with her unknown father’s name. Hoping to find answers to her cannibalism, Maren’s search for her father turns into a much greater adventure.
From its poignant beginning to its unconventional ending, Bones & All will mess with you (in a good way). Horrifying and entertaining, loathsome and loving, cruel and forgiving, confining and adventurous, bizarre and normal: this novel will challenge your emotional footing, moral compass, and plot expectations. Normally heroism is about gaining justice by defeating “the monster”, but in this original and spectacular novel heroism is about Maren accepting and being loved for “the monster” she is. DeAngelis’ choice to narrate her novel from an antihero’s perspective, portraying Maren sympathetically and with integrity while she confronts the shame and loneliness of her crimes, challenges us to ponder many philosophical questions about what it means to be good versus evil, a villain rather than a hero, and guilty rather than innocent. When is killing someone or something considered a crime rather than a natural instinct or as necessary for survival? Maren will take your eyes and your heart, but I hope you enjoy being devoured by this deliciously dark novel as much as I did.
Alyssa Raymond loves to read, review and collect books–thanks to her many years as a bookseller. She can’t wait to share with you her favorite new and upcoming releases and thanks Edelweiss, NetGalley, the Boulder Book Store, and publishers for providing her with advance reading copies in exchange for her honest reviews.