Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, painful, and funny too, October 29, 2003
This review is from: Rule of the Bone (Hardcover)
Chappie, the 14-year-old narrator of this powerful novel, is a Huckleberry Finn for the 1990s, with a mohawk haircut and a nose ring.
"Anyhow my life got interesting you might say the summer I turned fourteen and was heavy into weed but I didn't have any money to buy it with so I started looking around the house all the time for things I could sell but there wasn't much."
The house is a trailer in Au Sable, New York, that he's lived in all his life "so I knew the place like I knew the inside of my mouth." But somehow he's overlooked an amazing stash in the closet � a gun and half a dozen plastic bags full of old coins.
His mother and stepfather are both alcoholics, his father abandoned him when he was 5 and his stepfather sexually abused him, which Chappie has never told his mother. Chappie is deeply into anger and rebellion and has no sense of self-worth. When the thefts are discovered, Chappie slams out of the house.
Homeless, Chappie begins dealing weed to keep his spot on the couch in his friend Russ' squalid apartment, which Russ shares with a revolving group of thuggish bikers. He drifts, getting high and hanging out at the mall until the bikers begin boosting stereo equipment. Russ wants in but Chappie wants no part of it.
"For them [adults] I guess what was right was what you could get away with and what was wrong was what you couldn't, but it made me feel stupid that I didn't know it too. It was like the difference between dealing small-load weed and dealing crank � there was one, I knew but I didn't know what it was. The whole thing was scary."
Chappie determines not "to be any worse a criminal than I already was" but the whole thing ends in conflagration, leaving him not only homeless but presumed dead. Like Huck, he takes advantage of this, thinking to start a new life, grows out his hair, gets a crossed-bones tattoo and sheds his old name, calling himself "Bone."
He and Russ, after an interlude with a couple of crackheads in the bus that crashed in The Sweet Hereafter, hide out in a summer house for a while until the place is trashed and Russ decides to return to real life. Bone strikes out on his own. He's picked up by a pedophile who appeared earlier in the novel and manages to abscond with the pedophile's cash and his little girl captive, Froggy.
Bone returns to the bus which is now sweet-smelling and occupied by the book's Jim character, a run-away migrant worker from Jamaica, a pot-steeped Rastafarian who calls himself I-Man. Awed by I-Man's evident wisdom and peaceful sense of himself, Bone clings to him as friend and father figure, absorbing as much Rastafarian mysticism as he can. Eventually he travels to Jamaica with I-Man, after returning Froggy to the crackhead mother who sold her and trying one last time to reconcile with his own mother.
Banks is clearly familiar with the Jamaica the tourists don't see. Bone, meeting up with his real father, lives on the edge between the rich white residents and the black Jamaicans who score off them as best they can. Here is a world as brutal and unforgiving as the one Bone left behind and alien too. But Bone sees opportunity.
He eyes the white tourists "who I figured would be relieved to buy some ganja from a white kid who spoke regular English instead of having to deal with a scary black Jamaican like I-Man....and then I wondered if I-Man'd already figured that out long ago..." His view of I-Man is being revised.
If the story sounds bleak, well, it is, and Bone's reunion with his "Pa" doesn't turn out so well either, but Bone's deadpan voice is so full of life and humor and pluck that the reader is swept up in his harrowing adventures and comes to believe in the insights he works out for himself.
Banks deals unflinchingly with the seamy underworld of runaways where adults are predators and goes far more deeply into issues of race than would ever have occurred to Twain. Bone, after working hard at becoming a Rastafarian, cuts off his dreadlocks and embraces his white American identity in a spirit of guilt. "I knew if I wasn't white, if I'd been a real Rasta-boy like I'd been pretending to be I'd be dead now."
Banks' vernacular voice never flags or falters. Bone is a real boy, petulant, bratty and impulsive, also brave and loyal. But mostly he is confused; struggling to find his place in the world and something or someone to believe in. Rule of the Bone is a book readers will devour with laughter, pain and hope.
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Review Details

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Reviewer

Lynn Harnett
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: Marathon, FL USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 9,157