CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 32. . . .April 22, 2011
Broken Bones. (A Peggy Henderson Adventure).
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2011.
196 pp., pbk., $12.99.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Meghan Radomske.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
The skeleton was laid out straight. The exposed dry bones were white and dusty. The skull was cocked to the side at an awkward angle. The humeri, radii, and ulnae—all the arm bones—were folded over the chest, as in prayer. There were small patches of dried skin clinging to some of the bones. Curly tufts of auburn hair were still attached to the top of the skull. And the clothing was little more than patches of frayed black fabric eaten away by time and small creatures.
Questions leapt around in my head. Who was this? What happened? How did he die? From experience I knew it was only a matter of time and the bones would tell us more.
In this sequel to Reading the Bones, Gina McMurchy-Barber welcomes feisty 12-year-old Peggy Anderson back to the page in a new archaeological adventure. This time, Peggy is invited to help her elderly friend, Dr. Eddy McKay, excavate a vandalized grave in a derelict Pioneer Cemetery in Golden, BC. The grave dates back to the 1890s, a time when most of Golden's residents were miners and railroad workers who often died in gruesome accidents or violent fights.
Peggy is overjoyed that her mom has agreed to allow Peggy to miss school, despite her Aunt Margaret's protests, and to assist with the archaeological investigation while she stays with her Aunt Norma. However, when Peggy realizes Eddy has invited Sam, a goth teenaged-boy who spouts Shakespeare at every opportunity and insists on being called Tristan, she is less than thrilled. When local police officer Constable Hopkins advises Peggy that Sam/Tristan is the delinquent criminal responsible for vandalizing and disturbing the old grave in the first place, Peggy is outraged at Eddy and refuses to trust Sam/Tristan. She has no qualms about indicating her distaste both to him and to Eddy.
As Peggy and Eddy begin excavating the grave, they discover that the corpse's skull vertebrae are crushed, suggesting death by hanging. Because only murderers were sentenced to death by hanging, Peggy is convinced that the corpse belongs to that of someone who deserved his grisly end. Determined to learn the identity of the buried man and to resolve the mystery of his death, Peggy begins visiting history buff Henry at the local museum and combing through old newspapers. As pieces of the story come together, Peggy begins to realize that perhaps she is too quick to judge people for their negative actions. The story resolves with a satisfying twist that links the mystery of the grave with Sam/Tristan's elusive criminal behaviour.
McMurchy-Barber has created another suspenseful, humorous, and educational archeological mystery. Peggy's outspoken and sarcastic attitude and enthusiasm, combined with her very real human bias, make her a fallible and believable protagonist who has the capability to change and grow throughout the story. Young readers will identify with her changing emotions and value judgements expressed through her internal thoughts and rants. McMurchy-Barber summarizes the first book and Peggy's relationships with the other characters aptly and succinctly. A reader need not be familiar with Reading the Bones to enjoy Broken Bones.
Peggy's story is interspersed with flashbacks to the 1890s, to showcase the story of William Frances Maguire, the young miner whose grave is being excavated in present-day Golden. The Prologue opens with Maguire's execution, a choice guaranteed to grab the reader's attention and to give Peggy's investigation relevance. McMurchy-Barber also uses newspaper clips to tell the story of Maguire's death and to reflect the bias and racism inherent in Canada's past. Her ability to connect the stories across time and perspectives draws the reader into the historic tale and sparks curiosity. McMurchy-Barber reveals the value of understanding our history and highlights how we can learn from our ancestors. The broken bones of the grave come to symbolize the broken dreams and goals of a whole generation of Golden's pioneers who expected to find health and happiness for their families, but who often met with strife and back-breaking work instead.
Broken Bones is a fast-paced historical mystery that reminds readers to consider the past before judging the present and anticipating the future.
Meghan Radomske is a librarian at New Westminster Public Library, North Vancouver District Public Library, and Surrey Libraries.
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