Formed from bone dust and imagination, Irréelle, 11, works in the tunnels beneath a cemetery for her cold creator, Miss Arden Vesper, to whom she is connected by a magical thread. All Irréelle wants is to be loved and cared for, but Miss Vesper refuses to mend Irréelle’s misaligned limbs, using bone dust, which Irréelle extracts from corpses, for her own longevity and “dark creations.” After Miss Vesper informs her that she can be easily dispatched, Irréelle escapes to the tunnels, where she finds and rescues her predecessor, Guy. Guided by disembodied Hand, they begin to unearth the truth about Miss Vesper and her quest for “an unmarked grave that is very clearly marked.” Up against dirt bats, the graveyard’s sadistic night watchman, and Miss Vesper herself, Irréelle, Guy, Hand, and Irréelle’s replacement, Lass, must disentangle the secrets of bone magic before Miss Vesper unmakes them all. Kassner’s uneven debut seems to be alluding to larger questions about abuse, ability, and self-acceptance, but these themes are left undeveloped, raising troubling, even disempowering messages. Still, the eldritch atmosphere and compelling mystery will likely draw fans of middle grade horror, and Saunders’s spooky black-and-white sketches bolster the tale. Ages 10–14. Agent: Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary. (Aug.)
Gr 4–7-Iréelle is stranded between real and not-real, alive and not existing. She was made from bone dust by the mysterious Miss Vesper, who threatens to imagine her away anytime Iréelle displeases her. Iréelle is too slow when gathering bone dust from the graveyard for Miss Vesper's new creations; her crooked limbs make her awkward, and her temperament—desperate to please—only encourages her harsh creator. When Iréelle runs away into the graveyard, she meets a boy like her, who tries to help her escape. This title could have filled the gap left by Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, but it fails to capture the same haunted magic and atmosphere that one expects from a story set in a graveyard. Iréelle's behavior is indicative of an abuse victim, which feels discordant with the rest of the story. When she finds her inner strength, the shift is abrupt, to the point where the reader feels it could have happened much sooner, or, realistically, would never have happened at all. Her friends feel like bit players despite the small cast of characters, and the villain fails to be truly evil or stir the reader's sympathy with her backstory. Saunders's black-and-white illustrations, reminiscent of wood carvings, are suitably spooky and provide a sense of mystery that the story lacks. VERDICT Lovers of scary stories may enjoy the book simply for the setting and all the bones, but most readers will finish the book unsatisfied.-Kristin Brynsvold, Tuckahoe Elementary School, Arlington, VA
A girl conjured from bone dust longs to be real—and loved—in Kassner's debut.
Eleven-year-old Irréelle doesn't believe in ghosts, though she spends her days beneath a cemetery—the titular "bone garden"—extracting bone dust for her sinister creator, Miss Vesper. But she is haunted. Miss Vesper constantly criticizes Irréelle's "mismatched" and "muddled" white hair, multicolored eyes, and crooked limbs; worse, she reminds Irréelle that she's "a figment of [her] imagination, tethered here by the finest thread." Terrified of being wished away, Irréelle vows to complete an "impossible" task in hopes that Miss Vesper will make her "normal" and "fully real. Maybe then she would be worthy of love." As Irréelle and her somewhat one-dimensional fellow creations—wisecracking Guy, fearless Lass, and the mischievous, disembodied Hand—search for "the unmarked grave that is very clearly marked" while dodging Miss Vesper's wrath, Irréelle learns that being "real" takes many forms. Many predicaments resolve with remarkable ease, diminishing suspense. However, the author perceptively depicts the confusion of living with an emotionally abusive caregiver; Irréelle's love for Miss Vesper despite her cruelty is painfully realistic. The ending feels a bit too tidy, but Irréelle's newfound self-confidence is rewarding. Saunders' dark, scratchy line drawings accent the lyrical prose. Miss Vesper and Irréelle present white; the Hand appears dark-skinned, Guy is racially ambiguous, and Lass appears to be a person of color.
A mildly creepy, ultimately comforting take on familiar themes of love, family, and identity. (Fantasy. 8-12)
"Best read aloud on a dark autumn night (under a cozy blanket, of course), this magical storyand the brave girl in its pageswill haunt you in the best way." Natalie Lloyd, New York Times bestselling author of Over the Moon
"A gorgeously creepy tale with a timeless feel. With her vulnerability and courage, Irréelle is a heroine you can't help but love." Elly Blake, New York Times bestselling author of Nightblood
"[Evokes] the dreamy tone and themes of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book . . . With a timeless feel, Irréelle’s story broaches the subjects of loss and forgiveness with a deft touch. This is an impressive new fairy tale that will appeal to fans of Lisa Graff’s subtly magical stories." Booklist
"The pages of this book are filled with imagination incarnatein the form of a haunting heroine made from dust, bone, and a heart of gold. A deliciously dark, unique tale!" MarcyKate Connolly, author of Shadow Weaver.
"Beautifully haunting and elegantly told, The Bone Garden enchanted me from page one and kept me spellbound until the very end. I’m convinced Heather Kassner must have her own brand of magic as strong and compelling as her bewitching characters." Mindee Arnett, author of Onyx and Ivory
"At once creepy and emotional, this hauntingly beautiful book and its wonderful narrator come alive with a breath of magic and a pinch of the macabre." Lori M. Lee, author of the Gates of Thread and Stone series
"It is easy to become lost with Irréelle as she navigates the eerie passages of the graveyard, listening to the hum of human bones. Ultimately a story of love and the power of friendship, this girl of dust and imagination will win your heart and keep you turning pages until the very end." Lucy Hounsom, author of Starborn