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Magic Realism x2 (Bone Gap and The Accident Season)

Happy 2016. I closed out the old year by frantically reading my way through a backlog of wonderful (and not so wonderful) books. Today, to start the new year on the right foot, I’m catching up on discussing some books I read ages ago but have been avoiding writing about.

Also! A week from today most of us will be in or en route to Boston, or else enviously reading #alaleftbehind tweets, so we’re in the homestretch! We’ll be reading and posting like mad all week and right on up through (and possibly past!) ALA.

The Accident Season, Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Kathy Dawson Books (Penguin), August 2015

Reviewed from final copy

A relatively quiet magic realist text about family abuse, silence, and the healing power of love, this has been overshadowed by 2015 favorite Bone Gap. Which is a shame, because this is a wonderful book.

The writing sings — especially the haunting refrain, the accident season song from the exquisite corpse poem the characters write. Almost every word is perfectly placed. There’s a sense of magic and also a practical mundanity to the world Fowley-Doyle depicts, and it’s just right. As a reader, I never felt something was being hidden; I came to the realization with Cara that there were strange things, secrets, and darkness hiding.

It’s also a deceptive book, mixing a problematic love story (sort-of step-siblings) and friendship on the top layer above the seething pit of secrets; it’s very meta, in fact, because that layering is exactly what Cara in particular is doing to hide from the truth behind the accident season and the way some accidents are not accidental at all. And it’s a beautiful take on magic realism, managing to be both true to the literary conventions of that tradition and also feel pretty definitely Irish (especially the use of the ghost and the ghost house, which both draw on ideas rife in the Celtic tradition).

I’ve read this twice now and it only got stronger on the second go; here’s hoping the RealCommittee (and all of you) give this a closer look.

Bone Gap, Laura Ruby
Balzer + Bray, March 2015

Reviewed from final copy

Oh Bone Gap. Everyone loves this book. I love this book. I don’t really want to belabor it’s strengths, which are many, because I think we all know them. (But if you want a refresher, may I point you to the New York Times Book Review? Or the glowing review from The Book Smugglers? Or the three starred reviews or the NBA finalist sticker on the front cover? Or the fact that it swept the Pyrite? I could also point out the luscious writing, the use of mythology, the subtle glimmers of humor, Finn and Petey’s relationship, the characters in general, and on and on and on…)

But at our Printzbery table, one of the librarians in attendance said something I can’t get out of my mind. This is a somewhat inexact quote, but basically: “For a book that spends so much time telling us women are more important than their looks, and is getting good press for never describing their physical selves, it sure is obsessed with their looks and seems to make everything ultimately about appearance.” Also: it’s all in a male voice. I think both of these are thoughts worth exploring more deeply, especially as this is a book that has received a lot of attention for being feminist. I agree with both, but also think it’s not accidental and may be part of the larger conversation Ruby is having with the world via her readers — but that’s not definite, and that this question existed is worth noting. I also don’t know if this matters for the RealCommittee, since it’s an award for literary excellence and not for MESSAGE, but since the awesomeness of the book isn’t actually a question and lovefest conversations are pretty boring, this is the conversation that is intriguing me.

The other thing worth investigating is how this seems to be a book that hits readers rather differently depending upon the reader’s familiarity with the Persephone myth, one of the strongest elements in a discussion of the literary strengths on display. I didn’t think this was all 100% perfectly executed, but the way the myth resonates in Roza’s story was just right; emotional winter, a loss of growth in the sense of forward momentum — yes and yes. I think the more you know the source material, the more impressive the novel is in straight up literary terms; the magic realism here is actually something between magic realism and contemporary (sub)urban fantasy and a mythic retelling, and it’s the reworking of the mythic material that succeeds most, but a few readers who didn’t come of age on Greek mythology and/or the complete works of Rick Riordan have said that they were left feeling a little bit “huh” because they didn’t get what was going on, and the book was thereby diminished.

There is no question that this is a serious frontrunner, and I wouldn’t be surprised (nor dismayed) to see it recognized, but I’d love to hear arguments for and against because again, all the loving has been drowning out the more complex conversation I’d like to have about Bone Gap.


About Karyn Silverman

Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.


  1. I’ve been a lone dissenting voice on Bone Gap for a while – everyone I know who’s read it has loved it, but I went into it expecting to love it and ended up disappointed. I absolutely agree with the librarian you quoted, and even in conversation about the book, I’ve never gotten a satisfactory response to that point. Why did Roza have to be beautiful? The insistence seemed to limit Ruby’s message. And I found the magical realism to be a veneer that covered a lot of dangling threads in the plot, and the lack of a deliberate narrative. Also, to me, the magical realism detracted from Roza’s story/Ruby’s message – it confused something I wanted to feel with castles and servants and simple kitchens. And because I never felt connected to the work, I kept asking questions – why cornfields? Why crows?

    I know I’m in the minority with this one – but to me it’s flawed to the point where it doesn’t succeed as a complete work of literature.

  2. *warning-spoilers aplenty follow*

    Agree so much on Bone Gap-the abduction and face-blindness storyline mixed with the mythic space seemed to jar, for me the second sort of made the face-blindness irrelevant? And though it was all ultimately beautifully wrapped-up (in terms of prose and telling) I was left slightly dissatisfied.
    Whereas The Accident Season had some equally confusing/disparate elements (the abusive step-father and his weird reappearances) but was somehow so much more likeable and engrossing? Maybe because the protagonist was female and had so much more agency than the girls in Bone Gap? Maybe just because of the Irish/ghost house/ secrets booth charm of the whole thing? Maybe just me… Anyhow both lovely books and be so pleased to see either one honoured.

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