Read Along with Faye is a new series of book reviews and commentary by Faye Bi on the Sirens communications staff, in which she attempts to read 25 books and complete the 2016 Sirens Reading Challenge. The series will consist mostly of required “theme” books and will post monthly. We invite you to read along and discuss! Light spoilers ahead.
It took me a long time to finally decide to pick up Bone Gap. I’d heard that it was about an abduction of a young woman. Those who know my reading taste know that sexual violence is one of my biggest reading triggers—I struggle even when I know it will take place, and when blindsided, I crumble. It turns out, I needn’t have worried, because while there was indeed an abduction, there were stunning ruminations on the burden of beauty, consent and redemption.
Bone Gap begins with two brothers, Finn and Sean O’Sullivan, who reside in the mysterious and actually-named town of Bone Gap, Illinois. A beautiful girl named Roza shows up barefoot in their barn, clearly traumatized but offering no explanation. She recovers, and integrates into their lives by cooking homey Polish food and tending the garden… until one day at the town fair, she disappears. Finn insists that she was abducted by a man whose face he can’t remember. No one, including Sean who was planning to propose to Roza, believes Roza didn’t just disappear of her own free will.
There are clear parallels to the myth of Persephone and allusions to fairy tales, but examining Roza’s character in the concrete, she is one of those stunningly beautiful people who are just absolutely stunning—and her struggles so absolutely relatable to me as a woman. Readers get a lot of Roza’s backstory in the chapters that she narrates, and it’s clear that starting as a young teenager, people (especially men) saw her as a beautiful, dehumanized object, to be touched and possessed, to be assumed about, without independent thought or agency. And then there is this man, Roza’s professor and in a position of power, who whisks her away to a magical land and builds her a magic castle with all the servants, dresses and food she could ever want. Who calls her a “beautiful creature” and vows to make her love him. But she doesn’t.
Roza is not ur puppet. And really, Roza, with some help from Finn and Petey, saves herself. (Also, how effing cool is Petey? I love Petey, not just as a foil to Roza, because she’s badass and also, BEES.) I will also add that Roza’s psychological journey here is dazzling. Laura Ruby wrote a fantastic post about leaving out the explicit details in Roza’s rape, which I can’t even tell you how I am how grateful for. In fact, it may be the whole reason why I have this trigger in the first place. What other details matter except the fact that she survived?
There’s a lot going on—social critique and gorgeous imagery and fantasy (yes, I’m in the “this book is fantasy” camp). There’s a reveal about Finn’s character which I found so metaphorically appropriate, which makes him a powerful and unreliable narrator. There’s also critique of masculinity; in a typical hero’s journey book, our main character would be Sean, not Finn, and Ruby does explore the relationship between the two brothers. But let’s not kid ourselves, Bone Gap is about The Importance and Tragedy of Being Roza, and even if the ending is pat, I love it.
Next Month: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Faye Bi works as a book publicist in New York City, and is a member of the Sirens communications team. She’s yet to read an immigrant story she hasn’t cried over, and is happiest planning nerdy parties, capping off a long run with brunch, and cycling along the East River.