Monday, May 15, 2017

Bone Jack

Ash has been chosen to be the stag boy in a yearly race through Welsh mountains near his village.  The race is steeped in ancient tradition, and it is a great honor to be selected as the stag boy who will be pursued by the hound boys.

Ash is particularly happy to carry on in his father's footsteps.  His father was stag boy almost twenty years ago, and now he's been away from home in military service.  He returns shortly before the race, but something is different.  Ash's father is not the expert outdoorsman with the easy smile anymore.  He's sullen, moody, depressed, and locks himself away in the spare bedroom.  After such a long separation, Ash struggles to be sympathetic to his father's PTSD.

Something else strange is happening.  Ash discovers his former best friend, Mark, has been living in the wilderness since his father committed suicide.  Mark warns Ash to drop out of the stag race because this year the stag boy will have to die.  The land is sick with drought, and the sheep were all slaughtered after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.  The land requires a sacrifice.  Blood for blood.

Ash is horrified by what his friend has become, and he can't deny the strange things he's seen.  Bone Jack, an ancient myth with many names, has been haunting the mountains, and he has seen runners in another stag race from long ago.  Are they just echoes of the past?  They seem too real to be just ghosts.  Despite all this, Ash is determined to run.  He hopes that winning the stag race will somehow bring back his father.

Sara Crowe's debut novel is full of haunting echoes from the past and the horrors of one boy's slavish devotion to bringing back his dead father.  This is a horror story with personal growth that also touches on the real horrors of PTSD and agricultural disaster.  This was an engaging and disturbing story.  Recommended for grades 7 and up

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