Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Natalie C. Parker's Behold the Bones

There's a lot to love about Natalie C. Parker's Behold the Bones, her sophomore novel which acts as a follow-up/companion to her 2014 debut Beware the Wild. Parker's voice work in Behold The Bones is impeccable—it creates not only a distinct personality for its narrator, but a distinct perspective for its setting. (The mythos of Sticks, Louisiana felt well-developed in Beware the Wild, but Behold the Bones deepens and expands it. Meaning: You can read one without the other, but you really ought to read them both.)

Candy Pickens is the only person in Sticks who can't see the Shine—the swamp magic that swims through the town, causing all manner of eerie encounter and collections full of "Clary Tales." Maybe because of this, Candy is already planning how she'll escape Sticks. How she'll leave it behind. But the events of the first book have increased the ghost-sightings to the point where they're commonplace, and she's tired of being the only one among her friends who's never seen a ghost. When a reckless act to remedy that has inescapable consequences, and a family of wealthy, reality TV show ghost-hunters arrives, Candy's thrown into the spotlight in a way she never wanted.

Behold the Bones is, for the most part, a very neatly made story. Everything is there for a reason, which tightly connects in a satisfying climax. The trope inversion is also well-done—pushing further than the first book, taking the expectations of the reader and using them to comment on the genre.

This is a tale about the way we are inexplicably linked to our roots, even when we think we're the odd person out—the only one who doesn't see the place we grew up the same way as everyone else there does. It's also about the mistakes we don't make, and the people we don't let ourselves become.

In that way, Candy is a very relatable character. She's also a fierce, ambitious girl who knows her worth and takes no nonsense. Who makes mistakes—big ones—and learns from them. I appreciated how honest the book was about Candy's thoughtless/unaware treatment of her friends, the real hurt it caused, and how she grew from it. That's a hopeful thing to see—the nuances of privilege and its effects in addition to the broad strokes.

Because this is a book about being linked to a place, the core of it is her relationships with the other people in Sticks—her family, her friends, and the new strangers come to town. It's both a nod to the smalltown Gothic and a modern presentation of growing up in rural America. There is a realness to Sticks through Candy's eyes. As a result, the eerie and otherworldly elements are that much more chilling, because they stand out. They're disruptive, not wondrous. They don't belong—and yet, they're so seamlessly interwoven.

It's but one of the ways that the element of belonging, of know but not-knowing, of rediscovering a place you've lived your whole life, is layered throughout the text. This is also present in the well-paced romance. I enjoyed the quietly stated element of how you can really enjoy your time with someone and care for them a lot, but also understand that they shouldn't stay with you. That the person who you may have more of a future with is someone you thought you knew, but were wrong about.

For me, perhaps, the most exciting thing about Behold the Bones is how it promises that Parker is an author doing inventive, intelligent things. One to watch, and one to eagerly anticipate the next opportunity to read.

Beware the Wild and Behold the Bones are available now— and highly recommended for fans of Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl's Beautiful Creatures series, Sarah Rees Brennan's The Lynburn Legacy, and Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle.