CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 22. . . .June 26, 2009
Return to Bone Tree Hill.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2009.
142 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Detective and mystery stories.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Rachel Steen.
I lowered myself to the ground, drew my knees up under my chin, and wrapped my arms around my legs. Then slowly releasing my breath, I looked around. The bank I was sitting on slid gradually into a shallow gorge littered with clumps of bush, spindly trees, and a rocky stream bed chocked dry after a rainless summer. On the far side rose another bank, higher and more imposing than the one I was on, and my gaze moved irresistibly to it.
Bone Tree Hill-that's what we kids had called it, though for the moment I couldn't think why. There were no bones there, just a large rolling hill, barren except for a single oak tree and sun-bleached stalks of rye grass waving their long spears like vigilant sentries. The solder grasses came and went in an endless parade of season, but the oak tree had been there forever. It was the most magnificent tree I had ever seen-as wide as it was tall-branches splayed like outstretched fingers, holding the surrounding countryside close. What it couldn't touch, it watched. From its lofty lookout on top of the hill, the tree saw all-and knew even more.
Eighteen-year-old Jessica, who has been living in Australia for the last six years with her family, has returned to her childhood home in Victoria, BC, to visit with her grandmother before starting school in Alberta in the fall. It should be an idyllic summer- catching up with her best friend, Jilly, and visiting favourite old haunts like Bone Tree Hill, but lately, she's been haunted by a recurring nightmare. In it, she's 12-years-old and playing with her friends on Bone Tree Hill when something goes terribly wrong. Jessica ends up killing a boy named Charlie, and the vision is so real, she can't be sure it didn't happen. Along with Jilly, Jessica searches for answers, until finally she recalls the truth of what really happened the day Charlie disappeared.
Acclaimed YA author Kristin Butcher's new novel, Return to Bone Tree Hill, is a riveting mystery that will have teens piecing together the evidence along with Jessica, trying to make sense of her hazy bits of memory and the scenes in her nightmares. Butcher is a talented writer, and the descriptive language pulls the reader right into the book with Jessica and Jilly. It also adds to the tension and overall eeriness of the story and builds suspense.
Jessica is believable, and sympathetic, and a very accessible character. She thinks, acts and speaks in a way teens will understand, and she never comes off as being unrealistic or two-dimensional. Readers won't want to believe that she committed murder, but they will forgive her if she did and be relieved if she didn't. The supporting characters are also well-drawn and likeable, and the author does a good job of bringing them to life. They have personalities and dimension, and they do what real people would do.
The story is well-thought-out and moves along at a satisfying pace. Butcher, while resisting being obvious, offers enough clues that the observant reader can piece the mystery together. Not everything is as it seems, and there are several underlying facts that show up as the mystery unfolds. The "ah-ha!" moment where you think you've got it all figured out never really happens, and there will be lots of unexpected twists to satisfy and surprise the reader.
There is no graphic violence or sexual content, and the story is not overly difficult or disturbing. Though the characters are eighteen and college bound, the content is safe for early teen readers seeking a gripping page-turner.
Rachel Steen is the Elementary/YA selection manager at S&B Books in Mississauga, ON.
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