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Bone by Bone by Bone Hardcover – August 7, 2007


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 - 17 years
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 680L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press; First Edition edition (August 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159643113X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596431133
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.9 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,335,208 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In a small town in 1950s Tennessee, nine-year-old David, who is white, and Malcolm, who is black, are blood brothers. Although David's racist father has forbidden their friendship, the boys enjoy wild, free-spirited adventures, exploring caves and acting out their favorite stories (Br'er Rabbit). But as the boys grow older and David's father's threats escalate, David wonders if his dad is a member of the Klan. Is his best friend's life in danger? Like most of her characters, Johnston's novel is layered with disturbing contradictions that add depth and a vivid sense of the time and place. Nostalgic scenes of small-town comforts contrast with the horror in the searing accounts of racism, which are true to David's viewpoint, and Johnston's vocabulary reinforces the effect in bone-chilling shifts from gentle, folksy, poetic colloquialisms to brutal racial slurs, including rampant use of the n-word. The author, who grew up in the South, begins her book with a charged, personal note: "The raw language . . . is my father's language and reflects a way of thinking that has troubled me my whole life." Readers, too, will feel haunted by this powerful story of a child awakening to family secrets and violence, and the racially motivated terrorism enforced by the Jim Crow South. Engberg, Gillian

Review

Publishers Weekly Starred Review
 
Johnston (The Ghost of Nicholas Greebe), well known for her witty picture books, writes a compelling, sometimes harrowing coming-of-age story that explores racial tensions in small-town Tennessee during the early ’50s. All his life, motherless David and the others in his family have longed to please his father, a doctor capable of such charm that “he could coax radishes to becoming roses on their way up through the soil.” But David can’t escape his father’s hatred of “Negroes,” in David’s language, especially when his father bans his best friend from the house with a serious threat: “You ever let that nigger in, by God, I’ll shoot him.” Without drawing attention to itself or slowing readers down, the prose gracefully incorporates rich imagery (“It was an afternoon in January, and cold. The leaves on the oaks were brown and damp from the fog that crept along the ground, a cold live thing”), its delicacy sharpening the brutalities David witnesses as he grows from age nine to 13. Johnston expertly builds tension as a series of chilling events awakens David to the full horrors of his father’s—and his neighbors’—actions. This novel stands well above others on the same topic for its author’s refusal to sacrifice the humanity of any of her characters and her dedication to the complexity of their relationships. Ages 12-up. (Aug.)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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This is a good, quick read of historical fiction.
Melissa A. Palmer
Ordered book for my 16 year old for reading project at school.
D. Fryoux
This book contains disturbing language and images.
Kellyn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kellyn on August 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautifully written, heartbreaking book. David Church is nine years old in 1951 and living with his father, grandmother and great-grandmother in a small Tennessee town. In many ways David lives an idyllic life filled with long, lazy days exploring the ponds and caves near his town. At his birth David's father hung a complete human skeleton by his crib. David learns the names of all the bones and intends, as his father wishes, to become a doctor. There is a very dark side in David's life; his father is extremely racist and has forbidden any "niggers" from ever entering their house. He has, in fact, said he will shot any one who dares to break this rule. David's best friend, Malcolm, is African-American; David and Malcolm are blood brothers, as inseparable as "green is from grass."

Tony Johnston perfectly captures David's anguish and David's love for his family, especially his father. David sees with unusual clarity the extreme contradictions in his father: on one hand he is tender with his patients (all white) and takes great care of his own very elderly grandmother. He is gregarious, well-liked and a "pillar" of the community. At times he shows unusual sensitivity to David and other times he is cruel and malicious. In the end David protects himself the only way he knows how.

This book contains disturbing language and images. It is essential to read Tony Johnston's note at the start of the story. She purposely includes this language because "(it) is my father's language and reflects a way of thinking that has troubled me my whole life." This may be a hard sell but it is a treasure.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Yvonne Buffington on May 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Tony Johnson tackles the tough topic of a young boy standing against his father's support of the status quo for racial interactions in the Civil Rights era. Surprises abound as family members discover what they're made of and where they stand. Recommended for school reading groups.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steve Benner VINE VOICE on January 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Set in a 1950s Tennessee, "Bone by Bone by Bone" chronicles the growing but ill-fated friendship of two boys in their early teens, one black, the other white. Pitched against a backdrop of racial segregation, intolerance and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, this book will inevitably draw comparison with Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird". The similarities are not just in subject matter either, for Tony Johnston shares Harper Lee's cinematic writing style and economic elegance of prose, which makes both writers such an absolute joy to read, and a comparison of the two books is neither unfair nor unfavourable. But while both books evoke the American South perfectly and are precisely paced in their story-telling, Tony Johnston makes the prejudicial racial underbelly of Southern society, souring the homely smell of biscuits and snap beans with fatbacks, altogether too clear from the outset.

In a way, Tony Johnston's story is less about the problems of segregation and racial bigotry generally than it is a working out of her own personal demons and emotional scars left by a father who was every bit as bigoted and filled with racial hatred as David Church's father, Franklin, in the book. And while the book is not strictly auto-biographical, it is clearly written with intense personal experiences behind it. As a consequence, "Bone by Bone by Bone" is much more personally pitched than "To Kill a Mockingbird" and as such is more more engaging and engrossing for all its slender size.
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