Bone by Bone, by Sanjida Kay, is a skillfully written exploration of the insidious damage caused by bullying. It is a tense and somewhat bleak tale with its portrayal of the helplessness and isolation of the protagonist, and the difficulty of protecting a child within the constraints of the law.
Laura, a recently divorced single mother, has moved to Bristol with her nine year old daughter, Autumn. Both are missing their friends from London. Laura chose their house based on its proximity to a well regarded school and its size as she wishes to establish her own business. Unbeknown to her, Autumn finds the creaks of the old place frightening and dislikes having a bedroom so far away from her mother’s.
At school Autumn is just starting to make a few friends when an older boy takes notice of her, mocking her name and insulting her looks. When her drawer is filled with slugs she tells her teacher that he is to blame, an accusation that is dismissed as implausible. When Laura finds out she promises her daughter that it will be sorted, a promise that cannot be kept.
As any parent will know, schools have many discontented parents to deal with and cannot police the behaviour of every child all of the time. Laura sees how unhappy her daughter has become and is determined to help. Her attempts to do so escalate the problem. The boy is spoken to and he takes out his anger at this on Autumn. When Laura comes across a group of his friends surrounding her daughter she loses her temper.
The law rightly protects children but knowledge of this gives the savvy power. With the explosion of mass internet usage, a medium which many do not yet comprehend, there is also scope for cyber bullying. Laura’s priority is to protect her child but Autumn understands that each time her mother acts the situation worsens. She believes the cruel taunts and blames herself.
The story is told from both Laura’s and Autumn’s points of view. It is frustrating to read as it is so plausible. The author has done a stirling job in dragging the reader inside the minds of all involved. The alpha mummies close ranks, the gossips are fed, the children follow the herd. Malevolence oozes from each page.
The denouement is tense and terrifying. Laura feels driven to consider ever more extreme measures. Her desperation is palpable.
A tightly written thriller that gets to the heart of issues too many must face. An accomplished debut and a haunting read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Corvus.