Publisher: Hachette Children’s
Genre: YA Fiction
Release Date: 1st April 2021
Format reviewed: ARC Ebook (with thanks to Netgalley and Hachette UK)
This wonderful tale transports the reader from the city to the forests and fells of Northern England. Under a boundless starry sky, the unforgettable Sylvia Carr reconnects with the ancient past and discovers what it really means to be young in the world today.
Sylvia, brave hearted and rebellious, moves into wild Northumberland from the city of Newcastle. She feels alien in this huge, silent, seemingly empty landscape, but then she meets Gabriel, a strange yet familiar boy. As they roam the forests and fells together, she sees nature with new eyes. She becomes aware that the past is all around her, and is deep inside herself. From the wing of a dead buzzard, they create a hollow bone – the kind of flute that was created and used in rituals in the distant past.
This is a book of hope and joy – a book that celebrates humanity and explores the deep connections between ourselves and nature. It is timely and original. It speaks to young people about what it really is to be a human being alive today.
David Almond’s latest YA fiction Bone Music is immediate and atmospheric. Set on the fells of Northumberland, it’s brimming with folk tradition, community and the sprawling openness of the land. Sylvia Carr finds herself in this barely populated place when her mum decides they need a break from the city. Sylvia doesn’t want to be there – she’s very clear about that – away from her friends, her life and even any decent phone signal. But with time, the archaic wonder of this natural place begins to seep into her bones, and on the subject of bones, did you know it was possible to make music from the hollow bone of an animal? Sylvia discovers this amongst many of nature’s other gifts, with the help of local boy, Gabriel who also makes her brief visit a little more appealing.
The writing pulls you in with ease – brief sentences that immediately place you within the action, at times beautifully capturing the sights and sounds, and painting the world Sylvia inhabits – the mysterious boys seeking to befriend her, the vast empty landscape waiting to be embraced, the natural beauty and freedom, and Sylvia, in the midst of it all, slowly coming around to the idea that perhaps she’s not trapped after all, she’s free.
It’s full of mystery and there is some beautiful sentiment at play – about nature, time and the imprint of former communities upon the land. It begins with such potential, although I’m not sure this potential is fully realised. It felt very situational, with a sense that some wonderful stories could play out in this setting, but what we see is Sylvia interacting and warming to the land, even having some quite surreal experiences, but ultimately it lacks the sense of a building plot and climax. Even Sylvia’s character arc didn’t quite sit right for me and there were some inconsistencies in her character.
However, I tried really hard to appreciate this short novel for what it did offer – we don’t always need our reading to be fast-paced and dramatic. So to reiterate, this is a really intriguing, easy read. It’s delicate like the hollow bone of the title, the setting really comes alive on the page and the writing is immediate, at times lyrical. It’s really lovely to see and feel the rugged fells and the northern landscape unfurl. The folk tradition is really strong – it reminded me of the folk song/story ‘Cruel Sister’ with all its talk of bone instruments.
I’m not the target audience although I do wonder if the characters will successfully capture its YA audience. I hope they do because the novel offers some lovely exploration of what it is to connect with the old – the ancient and natural, the mistakes and lessons – to strengthen ourselves, and how this strength, combined with the hope and possibility of youth, can be a powerful thing. That’s a wonderful concept to explore.
Overall, this is a short, easy read with a beautiful message.
To find out more about the author you can visit here.
To hear Martin Simpson’s version of Cruel Sister visit here.