When white, zombie-obsessed, 12-year-old Stanly discovers a human skeleton growing up from his backyard—beginning as a single fingertip—he sees opportunity.
Photographing and writing about this, he reasons, may lead to winning the Young Discoverer’s Prize, which will bring Dad back from 1,500 miles away, and then his little sister, Miren, might stop getting sicker. This ambitious debut story of magical thinking keeps a mostly light tone despite the worsening gravity of Miren’s health throughout. It is peppered with whimsical asides and anatomical jokes in addition to homespun tales from Ms. Francine, part-time cook and child care helper from Kyrgyzstan. Stanly tries to keep his (literally) growing secret confined to his OCD–diagnosed best friend, Jaxon (who has a “cloud of black hair” but is otherwise racially unidentified). Miren quickly finds out, but although she can’t keep a secret, overworked, underpaid, and worried Mom is literally unable to see the skeleton, dubbed Princy by Miren. Conversely, the wise, folkloric Ms. Francine reacts, from the first phalangeal breakthrough, “like she was remembering something sad and happy all at once.” The close-third-person narrative doggedly expresses Stanly’s struggles with conflicting thoughts and emotions—but also keeps action rolling. Stanly copes well with problems ranging from the mundane (ineffectual cameras) to the extraordinary (photographing an evasive skeleton) to the heart-wrenching (a gravely ill sister; burdened parents).
The emotional roller coaster of a contemporary white family in crisis, tempered by a touch of magic and a resilient, likable protagonist. (Fiction. 9-12)