I always try to stop myself mentally compiling my ‘Books of the Year List’ long before the year is out. But sometimes you come across a book that is special. A book that you know it is going to be pretty hard to top. And when the book in question is a debut, with all the promise of more great things to come, then you know you are on to a winner.
Let me introduce you to Tall Bones by Anna Bailey. Set in a small Colorado town, this is, on the face of it, the story of a teenage girl gone missing. But it is the story of so much more…
When 17 year old Abi Blake vanishes in the woods after a teenage party, Emma her closest friend is filled with remorse. Blaming herself for the disappearance of her only friend, Emma’s life in Whispering Ridge, shifts from difficult to unbearable.
Being of mixed race and growing up without her father, Emma has always been an outsider, on the edges of this strange and insular community. Now, alone and grieving for her only friend, she seeks refuge in alcohol and the company of Rat, a Romanian immigrant, recently arrived and equally remote.
But as the investigation into Abi’s disappearance progresses, more than just the secrets of that one night rise to the surface. For Whispering Ridge is a very murky pool indeed. Families, like the Blake’s, are held together by bonds of fear and twisted religion and no one is willing to challenge long held stereotypes and distorted views.
In a community where the local pastor reigns supreme, where domestic violence is an open secret and everyone is busy turning the other cheek; will what happened to Abi every be known? Or will it be another dark secret buried under an avalanche of bigotry, hatred and fear?
This novel is an incredible debut. It is raw, dark and beautifully powerful. The plot races ahead, but never feels anything other than considered and authentic. Characters are painted in detail. They are alive, complex, bursting from the page and provoking strong emotions within the reader. These are characters that span generations and are woven together in a web of small deceits and complex connections, each keeping the secrets of the next. Many are accepting and complicit in maintaining and masking the darkness of the community they are a part of.
And yet, despite all of this, there is a pervading and tangible feeling of change, a feeling of hope and of challenge. It is the outsiders who facilitate this feeling, who bring the possibility to the community. But only those within can take the steps that are needed to save themselves.
It was fitting that I read this a buddy read alongside Jules, Rebecca, Emma and Siobhain. Because this feels like a book that encourages connection, that shows us the power of community both for good and for ill. Ultimately, it is the choice of the human spirit how we choose to take that forward.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. Tall Bones is going to be huge; everyone is going to be talking about this one. So clear some space in your reading schedule and settle in!