Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Rattled Bones by S.M. Parker

If you're looking for an excellent ghost story for October, check out S.M. Parker's The Rattled Bones. This chilling tale of the past haunting the present is all the more horrific for being based on a true historical event. In 1912 the governor of Maine ordered the evacuation of Malaga Island. The residents were black, white, and mixed race, and several were incarcerated at the Maine School for the Feeble Minded, which became Pineland Farms. For her novel, Shannon M. Parker pushed this true incident forward a couple of decades and added a present day family living on the mainland, overlooking the now deserted island. Sam, an Archaeology intern at USM relays the history to Rilla, the eighteen-year-old protagonist who befriends him while fishing off the island.

The Rattled Bones opens with a double tragedy. Rilla's mother is sent to a mental hospital, leaving her to be raised by her grandmother. Twelve years later, Rilla takes the helm of her father's lobster boat after he dies at sea. Rilla is torn by her desire to be the first in her family to go to college and her obligation to support her grandmother. When an island ghost starts haunting her, Brilla fears she has inherited her mother's insanity, but she wants to help the ghost and solve the mystery. This young adult novel was hard to put down.

Bustle called The Rattled Bones a "feminist ghost story" for many good reasons. The lobster fishing scenes were even more compelling than the ghost story, capturing the challenges a female captain faces in a male dominated industry. Rilla and her sternman Sam were smart, likable characters who treat each other with respect. My favorite character was the self-sufficient grandmother who listens to The Who while painting in the attic. Even the ghost was a well developed diverse character, a dangerous mix of good and evil. The ghost died before her time, but nevertheless, she persisted!

I had only a few criticisms of this well-crafted book. I would have preferred a transitional scene between the first and second chapter to show Rilla's relationships with her father and her high school boyfriend before tragedy struck. I also craved a final scene with the missing mother. The dig scenes, especially at the end, didn't always ring true to slow-paced Archaeology but made for a dramatic story. Overall though, the historical material was educational and well presented in engaging dialogue. Lyrical passages captured the gorgeous setting and enhanced suspense. The Rattled Bones was a fast, fun read which will appeal to both teens and adults.

My two favorite quotations:
"The morning fog parts as I push against its thickness, the displaced mist twisting into thin gray fingers, beckoning me toward deeper waters." 
"His apology surprises me. A boy who apologizes for interrupting a girl might be as rare as photos of the island." 

Last night Shannon M. Parker was on a YA panel with Maine authors Gillian French and Maria Padian at Print Bookstore in Portland. I've read and enjoyed all of Maria's books and Gillian's debut, Grit. Islandport Press editor Melissa Kim moderated the lively discussion and also published Gillian's The Door to January, which I purchased after hearing Gillian read a spooky excerpt. This was my second time meeting Shannon, who was my partner years ago in a YA workshop. I'm looking forward to reading her debut, The Girl Who Fell. It's so exciting to see her books in print. Well done, Shannon!

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@Barrie Summy


Lucy said...

Great review. From your description I wouldn't have pegged it as a YA book / story. It sounds very interesting though.

troutbirder said...

Sounds like Maine has had several horrifying governors. Adding a diverse ghost to the mix might be too much for my nerves. I scare easily....

Powell River Books said...

I enjoy meeting authors. Last night I met an author on tour for her new book. I've already read eight of her previous ones, so it was great to get to know her on a more personal level. - Margy

Barrie said...

Fun, fun, fun! I love the sounds of this book! And how great that you got to attend the YA panel. Love the photos! Thanks for reviewing. I especially loved your favorite quotations.

Lyndi Lamont said...

Sounds like an interesting read. I didn't realize young adult extended past age 17.

Unknown said...

Ooh, this one sounds good. I always like a unique setting. (Maine counts!! ;)) As always, a great review!


cynthia said...

So much to like about this one--including the title and cover. Enjoyed your favorite quotes too. And your photo!

thecuecard said...

Thanks for the link you note of the true historical event. Holy smokes it sounded terrible. Just rounding people up and evicting & displacing them? Has her book been taken well by the descendants? I usually like these kinds of stories, thanks.

Sarah Laurence said...

Lucy and Lyndi, the definition of YA has expanded beyond the typical high school trope. The one requirement is that the protagonist be a teenager. These days many as many adults as teens read YA and for good reasons. We all enjoy good coming of age stories.

troutbirder, Maine has had some good governors like Angus King, but I agree that our current governor, Paul LePage, and Gov Frederick Plaisted are horrific. I scare easy too, but this novel was more creepy than scary.

Margy at Powell River Books, it is fun to meet the authors behind the books.

Barrie, you would love this book. Thanks for hosting the book review club!

Alyssa, thanks! I love books set in Maine as long as the author has lived here long enough to know her setting, which Shannon has.

Cynthia, thank you! It's fun to read a book set in my part of Maine - makes it easier to illustrate with photos too.

Cue, excellent question! I wish I'd ask it at the book panel. I'm not sure of what happened to the descendents.

Donna said...

Thanks for the review. I'll add this to my to-read list. I enjoy a good ghost story, especially when it's set in New England.