For a different kind of YA novel, Bones & All may be to your tastes. (All puns intended.)
Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis
Since she was a baby, Maren has had what you might call “an issue” with affection. Anytime someone cares for her too much, she can’t stop herself from eating them. Abandoned by her mother at the age of 16, Maren goes looking for the father she has never known, but finds more than she bargained for along the way.
My result: Enjoyable
Book review – Bones & All
Bones & All tries to be a lot of things. Creepy and subtle horror. Coming of age story. Awkward YA romance. Thoughtful exploration of female sexuality. Darkly comic critique of American consumerism & meat-eating (yes, really).
With so many different things to accomplish, it’s not surprising that Bones & All doesn’t manage to deliver everything. If you’re drawn by one of the themes it does well, you will love this book. If not, you may end up disappointed. This review will cover both, beginning with what Bones & All does best.
WIN: Coming of Age Story
Maren is on her own at sixteen, with a horrifying habit and nowhere to turn. She sets off to discover the truth about herself and find a makeshift family of her own. Accepting who you are is hard enough, but it’s even harder when you’re a monster. Bones & All is the story of facing your dark side, and learning to embrace it. It’s the search for acceptance, the painfulness of family and first love, and, in the end, being strong enough to stand on your own.
As a unique coming of age story, Bones & All is a resounding success. If this is what you’re looking for, it’s a don’t-miss read and well worth overlooking other faults.
PASS: Love Story
Maren meets a nice young cannibal boy, just a few years older than her. He shows her the ropes of living on her own, and not shockingly, there’s a connection over their shared lifestyle. Their friendship develops naturally towards something more, but it’s hard not to view the progression with a sense of doomed inevitability. Maren eats people who show her kindness, after all. It’s hard to root for a romance when you know it’s a self-fulfilling tragedy. Lack of romantic tension and a foregone conclusion take the bite out of a friendship turned first love.
If you’re looking for mildly unsettling creepiness, you may find enough here to satisfy. But don’t read it for outright horror.
For a novel about cannibalism, Bones & All is remarkably neat and tidy. There’s little gore, and precious little description, so it’s easy to overlook the details of what the characters are actually doing. And there’s little to fear, as Maren is a predator, not the prey, and it seems remarkably easy to avoid detection as long as she keeps moving.
The horror element is disappointing overall, but one of the other cannibals is creepy enough to earn a passing grade. A late book confrontation provides a few scenes of real horror.
FAIL: Believable Plot
Bones & All is presented as a realistic tale, where man (or in this case, woman) is monster that lurks in the dark. But it is plagued with minor plot inconsistencies that stretch believability and make it hard to swallow. It’s easy to believe that one human can eat another, bones and all. It’s harder to believe it takes seven and a half minutes, and leaves hardly any mess. It’s possible to believe there could be more than one cannibal hiding in modern society. It’s impossible to believe they magically recognize each other by sight, in an instant.
Bones & All is best devoured in one fast read. If you stop to think about the details, it’s hard to swallow.
FAIL: Social Commentary
The book jacket describes Bones & All as a “mesmerizing meditation on female power and sexuality.” If so, it’s one of the most negative, least empowering meditations I’ve seen. If Maren’s cannibalism is a metaphor for her sexual appetites, then sex is a thing to be feared and an addiction that cannot be overcome. It keeps her isolated, and can never be more than meaningless, since to feel affection is to trigger a self-destructive cycle that destroys her partner as well. Self acceptance for Maren is to become a sexual predator and deliberately avoid connections to other people.
The author afterword gives another interpretation. DeAngelis is vegan, and thinks of Bones & All as a criticism of American consumerism and the meat-eating way of life. Both critiques are clumsily made, if present at all. Perhaps the vegan slant explains some of the oddest plot inconsistencies though, as it’s the meat-eating part of the plot that seems the most inconsistent in detail.
The attempts at social commentary are subtle and easy to ignore while reading, but ruin the story if you let yourself think about them.
Three stars, for giving me an enjoyable read, but with a bad aftertaste. It’s horror on a diet, but the coming of age story is delicious.
Bonus book review: Exquisite Corpse
With its coming of age and first love themes, Bones & All feels distinctly YA. For a mild taste of cannibalism that isn’t hard to stomach, try Bones & All. If you have an appetite for more, try Exquisite Corpse.
Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite (1997)
To serial slayer Andrew Compton, murder is the most intimate art. After escaping prison, Compton makes his way to the United States with the sole ambition of bringing his “art” to new heights. Tortured by his own perverse desires, and drawn to possess and destroy young boys, Compton inadvertently joins forces with Jay Byrne, a dissolute playboy who has pushed his “art” to limits even Compton hadn’t previously imagined. Together, they set their sights on the perfect victim.
My result: Recommended
Exquisite Corpse is a mature horror novel for adults, with all the darkness you could want and a mind-blowing amount of gore. It won’t be for everyone, or even for most. If you want to delve into the dark side of humanity and aren’t afraid of gore, it’s stunning. You will savor the language for its beauty and enjoy the feel of the words on your tongue. Then shudder, as you remember that you’re reading about the darkest of human appetites. This novel still lurks in a dark corner of my brain, years later.