Allison's Book Bag

Andy Reviews: Skeleton Man

Posted on: April 7, 2012

Cover of "Skeleton Man"

Cover of Skeleton Man

Welcome to another installment of Andy’s Sack o’ Books.

Skeleton Man By Joseph Bruchac

Skeleton Man has a promising start: Molly’s parents disappear.  We are then treated to the ghoulish Native American legend of the Skeleton Man, and there is the seemingly real possibility that Molly’s uncle may just be that man of little flesh.  And then, sadly, nothing.  Pages and pages of nothing.

I am being harsh.  The skeleton man is to blame.  It’s such a great creepy legend that I was craving more of the same.  But while Molly is not happy to have been taken in by her heretofore unknown uncle, and while she is riddled with suspicion, not much happens.  Her uncle locks her in at night, and she never sees him eat, and he spends a lot of time in his shed, and he never lets her get a good look at him other than his bony hands.  That all sounds like something, but when it’s spread out over a hundred pages or more it makes for slow going.

The biggest problem with Skeleton Man is that, for some reason, Molly has no friends.  There is one teacher who she trusts, sometimes, for brief moments.  But she has no friends her own age.  A friend would have been of great benefit.  Yes, of benefit to Molly, but I was actually thinking of we readers.  Books really need to have interactions between characters.  Skeleton Man has only three characters other than Molly – the teacher, the uncle, and a dream rabbit—and Molly rarely spends any quality time with any of them.  The result is that the vast majority of the book is spent in Molly’s head.  We are treated to her suspicions over and over, but, alas, there is little we can do to help.  Have I mentioned that Molly really could have used a friend?

If you don’t want to know anything about the nature of Molly’s predicament, please ski p the rest of this paragraph.  I shouldn’t really say anything, but it was a big part of why I didn’t enjoy the book.  Far too many books and movies tease their audiences with the suggestion of supernatural happenings, and in the end retreat to the comfort of logical explanations.  I really hate that.  What exactly is wrong with fantasy?  Why should horror stories be entrenched in reality?  And so, despite the promising start to Skeleton Man, when all is said and done the story is your basic Scooby Doo mystery.  And even worse, when you find out what has really been happening, you realize that it simply does not make any sense.

You may have noticed that I did enjoy the skeleton man legend.   And so I would like to address what seems to be a common complaint about this book from certain hand-wringing parents—judging from the handful of negative reviews on Amazon.  These parents found the legend of skeleton man to be too gruesome, and they are adamant that it is not suitable for their precious snowflakes.  Nonsense.  Many European fairy tales are pretty darn gruesome too.  The big bad wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, and then the woodsman chops the wolf in half to rescue her.  Or something like that, depending on which version you read.  And then there’s that witch that tries to bake Hansel and Gretel.  So for these parents to get all bent out of shape about the skeleton man legend is a bit ridiculous.  Why are “our” fairy tales suitable for children much younger than the audience at which Skeleton Man is aimed (and yes, I’m making an assumption that most of the complaining parents are of European decent), but this Native American fairy tale is not?  Okay, I’m probably being a little unfair.  It’s probably really more a matter of taking one’s own culture’s fairy tales for granted, but having to process other culture’s fairy tales from scratch.  Well, stop that.  Consider the nature of your own fairy tales before sounding the alarm about this one.

Joseph Bruchac, the author of Skeleton Man, is a prolific author of children’s books.  My wife has recommended another of his books to me, which I am looking forward to reading.  Skeleton Man is written well—I just found the story to be lacking in thrills and—well—logic.


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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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