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Bone by Bone by Bone by Tony Johnston
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Bone by Bone by Bone

by Tony Johnston

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This novel is told through the eyes of David Church, a young boy (the novel covers four years, from when he is 9 to when he is 13), living in Tennessee in the 1950s. David makes friends with a boy called Malcolm – but David is white and Malcolm is black, and it is a dangerous place and time for a white boy and a black boy to be friends. David’s father tells him that if Malcolm ever sets foot inside their house, he will shoot him. His father expects David to obey him, but David finds himself questioning his father’s beliefs, and the events that he sees going on around him.

Set in a Southern state in the 1950s, and narrated by a child, comparisons with To Kill a Mockingbird are inevitable. I personally don’t believe that this book is as good as TKAM (which is one of my all time favourite books) – but it is certainly a good read, aimed at younger readers. Hopefully it would open up the subject for discussion.

As it is narrated by a child, a certain naivety is to be expected, and certain events are therefore somewhat simplified. However, the book very ably portrays David’s distaste (and later disgust) with his father’s views. The writing flows easily and the story moves on at a rapid pace, and I felt that the author did a good job of getting into the mindset of a young boy.

I did feel that Malcolm was not really explored as a person, although he is one of the main characters. I would also like to have seen more of David’s Uncle Lucas, who does not share the father’s racist views; Lucas was one of the better fleshed out characters, despite being on the periphery of the story. The one character who was most fully rounded was probably that of Franklin Church – David’s father.

The Ku Klux Klan also appear in the book, and indeed a couple of the scenes filled me with a genuine sense of unease. There are a couple of genuinely upsetting parts of the story, which might be worth bearing in mind for younger readers. Overall though, I would certainly recommend this book – as mentioned earlier, it’s aimed at young adults, but I think it’s a worthwhile read for adults of all ages. ( )
  Ruth72 | Aug 15, 2010 |
I feel that Bone by Bone by Bone by Tony Johnston is a good example of YA literature. Although it is set in the 1950’s, its themes are very relevant to young people today. In a world where some still frown upon interracial relationships, especially in the South, readers can definitely identify with the protagonist’s (David’s) situation. Also, the relationship presented between David and his father is a very realistic one. Doctor Church expects a great deal from his son (I would argue that he has very unrealistic expectations at times), and he is so narrow-minded about what his son should accomplish in life. David struggles to please his father in multiple ways throughout the book, especially where becoming a doctor is concerned, and he is torn between hating and loving his father. So many young people today feel these same pressures from their parents, and many react in the same way that David reacts.

The book, also, did not “sugar-coat” the racial tension prevalent during the 1950’s in the South. The author uses strong racist language and some disturbing, but accurate, scenes depicting hate crimes. The chapters and sentences are brief, and the action moves along quickly. Each of these qualities is characteristic of YA literature. Finally, the book, in a way, leaves the reader to wonder what will happen to David as he sets off to find his uncle in the Northern U.S. It does not tie up all loose ends, and it leaves the reader feeling quite sad. This ending is perfect for the book because it was, indeed, a sad time in which to live, especially for a white child whose best friend was black.
This book could be used perfectly in conjunction with To Kill a Mockingbird. They share the same themes and similar settings, and both feature young children as the main characters. Bone by Bone by Bone is a more personal exploration of the themes, so a teacher could compare author’s point of view between the two books, as well. ( )
  TShirey | Feb 28, 2010 |
I was intrigued by two things when I was offered this book - the cover and the references to "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. I wondered how the cover related to the book and had thoughts of deaths and murder and as Harper Lee's novel is an all time favourite of mine, I felt compelled to try something that had been likened to it.

The cover does have a particular significance and is connected to David's father wanting him to become a doctor - something happens to the skeleton on the cover at the end of the novel which I found quite sad, it was David's attempt at independence. If you've read `To Kill A Mockingbird' you'll have an idea of what to expect in a novel which tackles race issues, the Ku Klux Klan and children who just want to be friends because they want to not because of anything to do with skin colour.
David is white and Malcolm isn't. They meet in the town they live in, in Tenneesse, when David is nine years old. The novel continues over David' life until just after his thirteenth birthday. David and Malcolm want to be friends but Malcolm is a little wiser as to why they can't than David is. David's father tells him that if Malcolm ever enters their house he will shoot him; and he can't quite weigh up his father's hatred of Macolm and the novel explores this.

The novel focuses on David's coming of age and fits the friendship with Malcolm into this. David begins to look closely at his family, analysing each and every one of them, exploring for the reader their highs and lows. I was very interested in the character of Uncle Lucas and would've liked this in more detail but of course the reader is taken through the family's life via David's eyes. Whereas I feel `To Kill A Mockingbird' is more for an older teenager, `Bone by Bone by Bone' would sit well with a younger reader; this obviously means there is naiveity in that the narrator is young (like in TKAM) but talks with young eyes - we see everything through David's eyes rather than the writer using the narrator to tell the reader a message.

As an adult reader this was an easy read, taking just a few hours, but for a child this should open up a lot of discussion (hopefully) as to why life was like this at the time. Most children will have covered race relations in school, more than likely at the age they would be reading this novel, so should already have some opinions formed. There were places were the novel could have been tightened up a bit but then I had to keep reminding myself that Tony Johnston was using a young child to tell the story so it would sound a bit flimsy in places. Overall, it's a great story and worth the read as an adult or as a child. ( )
  SmithSJ01 | Dec 22, 2009 |
This book was recommended to me by someone who compared it to "To kill a Mockingbird" and in some ways it is similar. There is the young narrator; a child growing up in the 1950s in the deep South (Tennessee) witnessing the harsh reality of racism around them and how adults of the time respond to the conflicts around them. There is the powerful father figure - someone who helps others and has an answer for everything. There is the unfortunate black victim of prejudice and the inevitable dramatic conclusion. But where this book differs speaks volumes - the father figure Dr. Church is no Atticus Finch - he carries his racism like a proud burning torch and tells his son David that if he ever brings his black friend Malcolm into their home, he will invoke the "Nigger Rule" and shoot him. This is despite the doctor's love for his black Mammy Tinney. David observes the poor treatment of the Mole Man who wanted to be a doctor but couldn't because he was black, and thinks about the pressure his father brings to bear on him as he studies each bone in the human body so he can be a doctor just like his father. But what he witnesses in his town change his life forever. Excellent book that could be studied as a companion to "To Kill a Mockingbird" or as a lead in. ( )
  nicsreads | Jan 19, 2009 |
Set in Tennessee in the 1950s, this short book has an engaging young narrative voice which softens the harsh realities of a racist society, and in so doing allows the reader to be shocked when attitude turns to action.

Although the narrator might be any age from adolescence on (he speaks of his father as if in the past) we mostly see and feel from his childhood view. This child knows the rules of his world but is still able to hope for improvement, especially regarding his father. David meets Malcolm at age seven and calls it “friendship at first sight". He never really understands his father’s “nigger rule”, but surely believes it. Should Malcolm cross their threshold he will be shot.

David’s father is an enigma. He is a doctor: intelligent, compassionate and very scary. He starts schooling his son to follow in his footsteps, places a skeleton in his room at birth and starts teaching him the bone names as soon as possible thereafter. Malcolm learns the bones too, but it may be of little use to him. David’s mother is dead. His cheerful, open-minded uncle lives in the North and visits on holidays. Grandma looks after them and is at times afraid of her doctor son, whilst Great Grandma lives in a room upstairs and embodies unequivocally the old racist values.

There is more to this story than just the family, and the author (who displays in her preface the origins of the difficult father of this book) shows us numerous characters of this southern town, each contributing for better or worse to the whole picture.

Bone by Bone will make an interesting companion piece to other books of the Deep South. It is suited to a younger readership than To Kill a Mockingbird, and an older one than Jonathan Scott Fuqua’s Darby. All three use the wisdom and innocence of a young narrator to good effect. ( )
  storyLines | Nov 24, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159643113X, Hardcover)

FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN WHITE AND BLACK in 1950s Tennessee.  Tony Johnston draws on her own childhood memories to limn a portrait of a sensitive and compassionate boy fighting for a friendship his father forbids.
 
David's daddy is determined that his son will grow up to be a doctor like himself.  David studies the human bones, and secretly teaches them in turn to his black friend, Malcolm.  In a rage, Dr. Church forbids Malcolm to ever enter their home--and threatens to kill him if he does.  David tries to change his daddy's mind.  but when Malcolm crosses the line, Dr. Church grabs his shotgun.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:53 -0400)

In 1950s Tennessee, ten-year-old David's racist father refuses to let him associate with his best friend Malcolm, an African American boy.

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