A young woman named Roza disappears from the small town of Bone Gap, and Finn, the only witness struggles to identify her captor. How do you describe someone who looks like everyone else? Everyone seems to believe Roza just up and left Finn and his brother Sean, the same way their mother did. But Finn knows Roza would never just leave on her own. Finn can’t give up. He’s as determined to find her as he is to win over the prickly bee girl with the strange eyes.
This is one of those books that I picked up expecting great writing, but having no idea what I was in for beyond that. As a Michael L. Printz Honor Book and a National Book Award Finalist, I figured it would be right up my alley. And it definitely is. Something about it reminded me of Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (even though there’s no race and the horse doesn’t eat anyone) and Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whalen.
I loved Finn right from the beginning. His complex relationship with his older brother and guardian really rang true, and the nurturing Roza totally drew me in. I was nervous about the magical-realism elements kind of throwing me out of the story. I think generally I like straight contemporary or straight fantasy, and magical realism seems to enjoy blurring those lines.
In this case, I think the fantasy elements were pretty well-grafted into the story. They were strange and a bit dark, but I loved the way Ruby tied everything together in the end, including the revelation about Finn—which I kind of saw coming but still thought was incredibly clever.
Overall, honestly, I felt like some of the sexual content was a little preachy. In one part, Petey, the girl Finn is interested in, recalls her mother giving her information about sex including conversation and an informative book. I liked the nod to parental involvement in sex education—I think that’s really important. I don’t know. Something about the way the relationship between Finn and Petey evolved felt a bit agenda-driven. It could be that I’m just be oversensitive. I like my literary fiction to read a little cleaner than this in terms of sexual content, so maybe it just felt out of place to me.
Despite all that, I loved the themes about love and about what it means to really see someone. The whole town is a bit blind to who Petey and Roza really are, but Finn, despite his other deficiencies, is the one who truly sees and knows them. I found that to be pretty powerful.
If you liked The Secret Life of Bees or the other books I mentioned above, you may want to add this one to your reading list. For more detailed content information, see below.
Roza is Polish. Other characters are more generic white, middle class people.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently.
Kisses between a boy and girl. A girl invites a boy into her bedroom in the middle of the night. It’s clear she’s willing to engage with him. She briefly reflects on the book her mom gave her about sex. References to oral sex. In one scene, a boy intends to have a girl perform oral sex with him and she refuses. In another scene a boy performs oral sex with a girl after the couple kiss and remove some clothing. It’s about a page long, so there are some limited details.
Things happen in the story that don’t make sense in the context of reality. (This is, after all, magical realism…) For instance, a horse flies. Gaps appear to connect the small town to another dimension of sorts.
Roza appears in Finn and Sean’s barn with some serious injuries. Later we learn about the man who caused them while he kept her captive. He’s super creepy. At one point she tries to stab her attacker. A boy attacks a man when he says something cruel about the girl he loves.