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)