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A Stir of Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman was
a finalist for the 2003 Bram Stoker Awards. The novel is a
suspenseful supernatural story about family abuse, friendship, and
self-discovery. This novel is the
prequel for the "Matt Black"
Stir of Bones is set during the fall of 1982 in Guthrie on the coast of Oregon.
Susan Backstrom, the novel's main character, is the
perfect all-American girl. At 14-years old, Susan is smart, beautiful, has
wealthy parents, and is a student at the exclusive Heron
Country Day School.
Her life, however, is far from perfect. Her lawyer father controls her every
move. Her mother is so weak and absent that she does not even make an
appearance in the novel. Susan's main social contact is Juanita Rivera, the
family's cook and housekeeper. One afternoon while studying at the public
library, Susan overhears Julio, Juanita's son, and his friends, Edmund Reynolds
and Deidre "Dee" Eberhard, planning a visit
to an abandoned house rumored to be haunted. The house's attraction is less its
ghostly atmosphere, than the fact that Trudie Adams,
an intrusive classmate, believes that it is haunted and will not go near the
house. In an unprecedented action, Susan interrupts the group and invites
herself along. Julio vouches for Susan and his friend's accept her presence
grudgingly. Lying to her father about another making a return visit to the
library, Susan tags along to the house. The group discovers that the house is
indeed haunted. There is a ghost named Nathan Blacksmith, a young man who
killed himself in 1918 despairing of the deaths of his parents and believing he
had contracting the deadly Spanish Influenza, but more importantly the house
has an emotional life of its own. Susan is very helpful in relating to the
house because she has developed "house sense" (the ability to read
the emotions atmosphere of a house). Soon it is learned that each of the young
people has their own independent reason for seeking privacy and the solitude
that a haunted house might afford. Susan, however, can not reveal her
reason. Soon Susan is falling in love
with Nathan and the accepting atmosphere of the house and her new friends. With
each visit, her risk of discovery by her father increases. Trudie
Adams reenters the story adding fuel to this already volatile situation, when
she discovers the group's hiding place and demands admission back into the
group or she will reveal their illegal entry into the house to the police.
Reading this book is like peeling
an onion. It takes time a long time to discover the inner emotional pain of the
various characters. While an astute reader should suspect right away that all
is not well in Susan's home, the true nature of the family's dysfunction is
slow to be revealed. Susan's gift of "house sense" is one I suspect
many children of dysfunctional family's can identify with or wish they could
possess. Trudie Adams is another interesting
character. She also possesses secrets. She is lonely, selfish, and destructive.
Nathan is the character in the novel with a message. He is truly a character
that knows human despair - his parents are dead, he has no familial or
financial support, and he believes that he has contracted a fatal disease - he
is however the champion of holding on to life no matter the severe of life's
problems. He is the firm voice against suicide. In the end, the novel focuses
upon the destructive practice of keeping secrets and how friends can overcome
the practice by challenging it.
Nina Kiriki Hoffman is an award winning author
of science fiction and fantasy. She has received awards for the following
novels, The Thread That Binds the Bones (1993; Bram Stoker Award) and The Silent Strength of Stones (1995,
finalist for the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards). She is the author of the
"Matt Black" series including, two novella Unmasking (1992, nominated for a World Fantasy Award) and "Home for Christmas (1995, nominated for
the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Sturgeon awards), full length novels, A Red Heart of Memories (1999, nominated
for a World Fantasy Award); Past the Size
of Dreaming (2001); and prequel A
Stir of Bones (2003). Her other
works include, Legacy of Fire (1990); Courting Disasters and
Other Strange Affinities (1991); Child of an Ancient City (1992);
and A Handful of Twist-Ties (1995); Common Threads (1995; which
includes both The Thread That Binds the Bones and A Handful of
Switchers from Outer Space (1996); Why I'm Not Afraid of Ghosts
(1997): I Was a Sixth-Grade Zombie (1998); Star Trek Voyager #15:
Echoes (1998); and A Fistful of Sky (2002). She lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Stir of Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
is an award winning story about abuse with a ghostly flair. The book
is not unusually spooky or scary, and is appropriate for Grade 6 and up. Highly recommended.
© 2004 Su Terry
Su Terry: Education:
B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from
Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral
Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in
Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in
Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a
Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in
Library Science at Dowling College,
Long Island, NY.