Allison's Book Bag

Precious Bones by Mika Ashley-Hollinger

Posted on: February 19, 2016

Precious Bones by Mika Ashley-Hollinger is my favorite Advanced Reader Copy this year. It’s partly a murder mystery, and it’s partly a tribute to a natural world which is being lost. But there’s also a depth to Hollinger’s novel that goes far beyond either of these two elements. That’s the biggest reason I’m recommending Precious Bones to anyone who appreciates quality literature for young people.

In the summer of 1949, all is going well for ten-year-old Bones. Idyllic days have been spent with her best friend fishing, hunting, and exploring the swamp that borders her family’s land. This peace gets interrupted when two real estate agents start poking around the family homestead. Her father, Nolay, drives them off with a loaded gun. His actions seem innocent enough until Bones finds Nolay’s knife nearby a buried human leg and then discovers his red handkerchief is gone too. Within the space of just a couple of weeks, two murders occur for which her father is arrested as the prime suspect. Then not only does the sheriff, but also Bones herself, start to wonder if everyone is really who they say they are.

Back in the 1940s and 1950s, author Mika Ashley-Hollinger grew up on a small East Coast community in Florida surrounded by swamp and forest. In the former, one might live with pigs and raccoons and run into snakes and alligators. One will also be surrounded by beautiful greens and golds. Silver rains will fall in the daytime and stars will twinkle at night. Hollinger saw nature at its finest during her childhood, a heritage to which she pays glowing tribute to in Precious Bones. Within that world, thanks to there not yet being television and internet, there is room too for Bones to imagine explanations for the odd smells and noises she encounters in nature. And so more mysteries develop. As do more questions about who people really are or want to be.

The depth of Precious Bones can be found in the answers to those questions. For example, is Miss Eunice otherwise known as Soap Sally really a witch who kidnaps children? That’s what Nalay’s wild stories have led Bones to believe. And if Bones is right, what will happen when Bones is no longer able to avoid her? Or what’s the real meaning behind the sometimes cryptic words of Mr. Speed? Are they simply the ramblings of a man broken by war? This is what Bones initially thinks. But then she realizes his words may hold a clue to the two murders. Speaking of which, why is Sheriff LeRoy taking so long to solve the cases? Does he really believe in Nolay’s innocence or does he just visit to take advantage of the family’s hospitality? As he fills his belly, is he collecting evidence for or against Nolay? Not all is as Bones thinks. Or what the neighbors think. And in this realization, Bones starts not only to figure out who she can really trust but also to mature.

Hollinger wrote Precious Bones to give justice and honor to a time and place that no longer exist. Not only do I believe that she has succeeded in this goal, but she’s also written the type of novel one often doesn’t have the joy anymore to encounter. Precious Bones is partly a slow-brewing mystery, and it’s partly a sweet lullaby of a quieter world. And it’s also a complex kaleidoscope of eclectic characters, who together help Bones piece together the puzzle of life.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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