Written by Sara Crowe
Age Range: 12-16
Paperback: 247 pages
Publisher: Philomel Books
What to Expect: Supernatural, Magic-Realism, Folklore
It has been a long time since I have read a children’s book that I have loved as much as I love Robert Westall’s The Scarecrows and Yaxley’s Cat, but Sara Crowe’s Bone Jack definitely meets the mark. Skillfully fusing Old-World folklore and superstition with modern issues and challenges such as PTSD, foot-and-mouth outbreaks, and recession, this novel demonstrates the ways in which folklore exists not merely to entertain but also to help human beings come to terms with the harsh realities of life.
For Ash Tyler, life has become a bit of a mess. The recent foot-and-mouth outbreak not only removed the sheep from his beloved northern English home, but also drove his best friend’s father, Tom Cullen, to hang himself. His own father, home recently from war, is not the companion and guide he remembers but has instead come home a broken man, jumping at shadows and too ill to leave the spare bedroom. All that remains to Ash now is his role as the Stag Boy: lead runner in a centuries-old race in which young boys dressed as hounds chase down a single, chosen, fleet-footed runner known as the Stag-Boy.
Ash longs for things to go back to the way they once were, but the growing distance between himself and Mark Cullen takes a sinister turn when Mark gives Ash a warning: do not run as the Stag Boy. Mark explains to Ash that the recent tragedies signal a sickness in the land – a sickness that has weakened the barrier between the living and the dead, guarded by the shapeshifting Bone Jack. Mark intends to re-enact the Stag Hunt of old, in which the Stag Boy’s death would be a sacrifice to the land, healing it of sickness and righting the wrongs of the past.
It seems like nothing more than the half-mad ravings of a grief-stricken boy until Ash begins to see things: wraith-like figures with sackcloth hound masks begin to haunt and torment him, while through the mountains stalks a man with the ability to move with supernatural speed and dissolve into a murder of crows. Ash does not know what to think – but he is determined to run as the Stag Boy. The question is: can he outrun not only Mark’s murderous intent but his own inability to cope with life’s problems?
Bone Jack’s strength lies in its ability to bring folklore to life in a modern setting, unsettling the reader with the startling relevance of savage and primitive stories and beliefs. This novel is not only a wonderful ghost story but also an insightful portrayal of how folklore and superstition can lay bare the troubled human soul.
About Sara Crowe
Sara Crowe (theforest.me) was born in Cornwall and raised all over England by her restless parents. She taught cinema and photography studies until 2012 when she and her partner bought a van and spent the next eighteen months traveling around the British Isles. She currently lives in a tumbledown cottage in Lincolnshire. Bone Jack, which has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal and the Branford Boase Award, is her first novel.
Bone Jack, by Sara Crowe, was reviewed by Dr. Jen Harrison. Discover more books like Bone Jack by following along with our reviews and articles tagged with Folklore, Ghosts, Supernatural, and Young Adult Fiction.