By Mika Ashley-Hollinger
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, Ages 9-12
9780307930705 $7.99 paperback; 9780375990465, $16.99 hardcover
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Ten-year-old Bones lives with her parents on the edge of a magniﬁcent Florida swamp. Bones’s father, Nolay, who is part Miccosukee Indian, is wise, but he’s also as inquisitive and mischievous as a raccoon. Her mama is as practical as corn bread. With an assortment of animals, including Pearl, Bones’s pet pig, the family lives a peaceful, happy life.
The summer of 1949 is drawing to an end. Bones and her best friend, Little Man, have spent most days fishing, hunting, and exploring the swamp. All is well until a huge storm blows through, flooding Bones’s home. A couple of days later, two crafty Yankee real estate agents show up and Nolay chases them away with a gun. Not long after, Bones and Little Man discover something horrible out in Nolay’s beloved swamp. Their small community is rocked by the news of two murders within two weeks.
As evidence pointing toward Nolay mounts up, Bones’s life begins to unravel. The thin thread of hope that her father will be found innocent is held in the hands of bumbling Sheriff LeRoy, who Bones thinks is as slow as pond water. Will the sheriff come through? Is Nolay innocent? Bones is determined to take matters into her own hands, and if clearing her father’s name requires a miracle, then a miracle is what she will deliver.
Filled with adventure, suspense, and the joys of simple living, Precious Bones will transport readers to a time and place that offer a rich and rare blend of magic and mystery.
“…a tale that will already hold high interest for nature-loving readers longing for their own wild playgrounds.”—The Center for Children’s Books Read full review
“In 1949, on the outskirts of a lush Florida swamp, ten-year-old Bones finds plenty to
occupy her time. For pets, she’s got three dogs, a pig, a goat, and a raccoon. For friends, she’s got Little Man, who’s a year older than her, and Mr. Speed, a young man who has suffered some brain damage in the war but is still a wealth of knowledge about the wildlife in Florida. Most important, though, she has her sensible mama, Lori, and her storytelling, fun-loving father, Nolay. Nolay is “mighty proud to be a cracker” and to be part Miccosukee Indian, and he doesn’t take kindly to a pair of real estate men from New York who come sniffing around for cheap property to buy. When one of the men goes missing and another is found dead, Nolay is arrested, and Bones is desperate to find out what really happened. Against the backdrop of the murder mysteries is a detailed portrait of a bygone lifestyle, where girls and boys learn to use a gun when they’re six and spend their days outdoors, fishing, frog gigging, and visiting their neighbors, including a visit to Nolay’s family’s Miccosukee village. Bones is a sure-footed tour guide through this untamed landscape, wide-eyed but never twee, competent but aware of her own limitations. Her summer is one of somewhat reluctant growth, as she begins to sort out her father’s fanciful tales of swamp lore from the more prosaic truth and faces the loss of a dear friend while coming to terms with real adult evil. Her father in turn faces his own need to develop a more mature outlook as he realizes the impact his words and behavior have on his maturing daughter. The last line of each chapter telegraphs plot twists, introducing some suspense in a tale that will already hold high interest for nature-loving readers longing for their own wild playgrounds.”
“The names of the characters alone make this a novel worth reading. How can you resist Bones, Little Man, Nolay, Soap Sally and Mr. Speed?!? Each character is as distinctive as the name they carry and the adventures they have.”—Random Acts of Reading Read the full interview.
“Precious Bones is a novel filled with adventure and mystery, as well as fascinating glimpses of its distinctive setting.”—Kevin Delecki, BookPage Read full review
“Bones has everything she needs to be happy. It’s 1949 and 10-year-old Bones lives on the edge of a Florida swamp with her father Nolay, her mama Honey Girl and an assortment of animals, including her pig, Pearl. Nicknamed “Precious Bones” by her Grandma Spot, she spends her days helping around the house, in school or with her best friend, Little Man. Her world is turned upside down, however, when a Yankee real estate agent goes missing and is eventually found dead. Nolay, who ran the man off his land only a day earlier, becomes the number-one suspect in the murder, and even Bones thinks he might be guilty. Bones and Little Man decide that the only way to save her father from going to jail is to solve the mystery of who really killed the Yankee, before the bumbling Sheriff LeRoy makes things worse. Bones sets out to find the truth, looking for clues, talking to her friend Mr. Speed, who sits outside of the General Store all day, and trying to avoid the terrifying Soap Sally, who kidnaps children and turns them into soap, and who may or may not be real. Written by first-time author Mika Ashley-Hollinger, who grew up in Florida, Precious Bones is a novel filled with adventure and mystery, as well as fascinating glimpses of its distinctive setting. Precious Bones allows readers to see deep into a lifestyle that most people have never experienced, and meet wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) characters completely unique to this story. Readers who step into Bones’ swamp will find it very hard to leave.”
“I won’t be the last person to compare Mika Ashley-Hollinger’s amazing debut novel, Precious Bones to Harper Lee’s iconic To Kill A Mockingbird.”—Mindy McGinnis, author of Not a Drop to Drink Read full review
“I won’t be the last person to compare Mika Ashley-Hollinger’s amazing debut novel, Precious Bones to Harper Lee’s iconic To Kill A Mockingbird. Raised in the isolated swamplands of 1948 Florida, ten-year-old Bones sees nothing odd about her name, the fact that she has a pet pig who sleeps in her bed, or the various items belonging to other people that her father, Nolay, brings home because they don’t seem to be using them. Bones asks a lot of questions about her world, not understanding why some people look down on her because her mother is white and her father is a Miccosukee Indian, why her black neighbors have to sit in a different part of the train when they go into town, or why people don’t appreciate the wisdom of a brain-damaged war veteran who takes note of everything that passes by from his bench in front of the gas station. The real world penetrates into Bones’ swampy haven when one of the Yankee land-grabbers that Nolay ran off his property turns up dead. Her father is under suspicion and living in the shadow of the electric chair unless someone can prove he wasn’t involved. Bones would rather take matters into her own hands than leave everything up to the local sheriff, who moves slower than pond water. Together with her best friend Little Man, Bones braves the swamp, the folktale fears of her childhood and the wandering gators in order to find the evidence that will make her father a free man.”
“An intriguing debut, written lovingly to a way of life now lost.”—Booklist Read full review
“Precious Bones is a 10-year-old girl who lives with her mama and part–Miccosukee Indian father, Nolay, on the edge of a Florida swamp in 1949. At the end of the summer, their small community is shocked by the murders of two men: a Yankee real-estate agent and a neighbor who was as mean as he was despised. When Nolay becomes the prime suspect for both crimes, Bones prays for a miracle. Although there are some elements of southern gothic, the book is a leisurely paced period piece, with as much detail given to the merchandise available at the Last Chance grocery store as to the legend of local bogeyman Soap Sally. Bones, a sweetly naive but feisty protagonist, is surrounded by a cast of unusual and well-developed characters. Social issues, such as the discrimination of the local African American community, bigotry against Nolay, child and spousal abuse, and the specter of tourism and land development, are all addressed though certainly not resolved. An intriguing debut, written lovingly to a way of life now lost.”
“It’s a rich stew, including hearty dollops of mystery and suspense.”—The Horn Book Read full review
“Ten-year-old Bones narrates this story of life in the Florida Everglades in 1949. She (though it isn’t clear for the first fifty pages whether the narrator is a boy or girl) lives with her easygoing daddy Nolay and her competent, super-patient Mama in a house (without electricity) that Nolay built and that, during flood season, they find themselves sharing with snakes and other wildlife. When some “low-down land-grabbin’ Yankees” show up, the family fears for its way of life. And when a person’s leg is discovered in the swamp and one of the Yankees is reported missing, suspicions quickly fall on Nolay. The story’s setting is vividly drawn and the characters are endearing. The pace meanders a mite, but all of the details and moments add up to a full portrait of a time and place. Kindness and charity are recurring themes, as is the treatment of outsiders, from “Yankees” to Native Americans (Nolay is part Miccosukee) to ‘colored folk.’ It’s a rich stew, including hearty dollops of mystery and suspense.”
“Her voice is strong and lyrical, mixing regional syntax and dialect with lovely descriptions of the beauty she sees as she hunts, fishes, observes and explores in this mystical place.”—Kirkus Reviews Read full review
“It is 1949, and the traditional way of life in the swampland of Atlantic-coast Florida is threatened. Ten-year-old Bones and her family live a life governed by awareness of the land and the measured pace of the seasons. They are not cut off from modern life, but it’s encroaching rapidly. When a land speculator and a neighbor are murdered, offstage, Bones’ father becomes a prime suspect because of his encounters with them. The plot weaves around the investigation but focuses mainly upon Bones, who is at once innocent and wise, trusting and skeptical, fearful and accepting. Her voice is strong and lyrical, mixing regional syntax and dialect with lovely descriptions of the beauty she sees as she hunts, fishes, observes and explores in this mystical place. She cares for every creature that comes her way and learns lessons of neighborliness and generosity from the example set by her parents. Finely drawn supporting characters add richness and warmth. But there are also the harsh realities: one family’s vicious cruelties, hurtful laws and prejudices that prevent natural friendships, the death of a beloved neighbor and the ever-present dangers of nature itself. A satisfying conclusion leads to a happy celebration for everyone. A spirited tale and fascinating setting, but it is Bones who shines.”
“Like an age-appropriate To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s Bones’s interactions with well-developed, often-eccentric characters that shape this story.”—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal Read full review
“Gr 4-7-Set in Florida in 1949, this coming-of-age story is Southern Gothic for the middle-grade crowd. Bones’s idyllic life in the swamps with her parents is uprooted when an out of towner is found murdered and her father is the prime suspect. The 10-year-old’s narration imbues the book with a folksy, down-home flavor reminiscent of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh (Atheneum, 1991). However, the overuse of the Southern vernacular occasionally grates, especially with regard to the dialogue. Although the narrative is built around a murder, at the heart of the book is the protagonist’s maturation process; like an age-appropriate To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s Bones’s interactions with well-developed, often-eccentric characters that shape this story. There’s the reclusive but good-hearted Miss Eunice (a Boo Radley-esque character who Bones initially suspects is a witch due to her father’s wild stories); Mr. Speed, a young man left physically and emotionally battered after the war, and Bones’s unpredictable but loving half Native American father. Issues of race and gender are explored in a cursory way as well, but there’s plenty of fun mixed in to keep the mood from getting too heavy, such as the child’s adventures in the swamp with her best friend, Little Man. Though the story’s resolution is somewhat predictable, many readers will find it wholly satisfying.”
“Mika Ashley-Hollinger’s debut book is full of suspense and surprise…I love Bones’ easy-going nature and adventurous spirit. She’s ready to rush off into battle to defend herself and those she loves, no matter the dangers. And I want her pet raccoon, too! “—Jack and Jill Magazine Read the full interview.