Bone Music


Publication Date: 9 Nov. 2021
Format: Paperback / softback

ISBN 9781444952926

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    Sylvia has never been so far away. Her mother has brought her to this village, this place of silence and dark, endless forest, and she yearns for the city, the bright lights, her friends, even a phone signal.

    Late one night she hears the music, a weird jagged spiralling sound. It is played by Gabriel, a troubled, beautiful boy.

    Gabriel uses the strangest of flutes, a hollow bone. Play it well enough, he says, and you cross the borders between the living and the dead.

    Sylvia knows she’ll follow him into the depths of the forest. But will they ever find their way out again? 

    Information

    Book Type: Junior High
    Age Group: 14 years +
    Traffic Lights: Amber
    Class Novel: Yes
    Good Reads Rating: 5/5
    Literary Rating: 5/5

    Review

    Fifteen-year-old Sylvia and her mother move out of the city to Sylvia’s mum’s hometown, a small village in Northumberland. Sylvia’s mum needs a break from work, she says, and the time in the country will do them both good. But Sylvia wants to stay in the city with her friends, not cut off in the wilderness with no Wi-Fi. 

    Sylvia meets old Andreas, a Nazi soldier who was brought to the UK as a POW in WWII. He gives her an ancient scraper made of flint and tells her that people from their past were just like us, and that she could have been born 5,000 years ago. 

    At night, Sylvia hears strange flute music coming from the forest. 

    She meets a young boy called Colin and his older brother Gabriel. They go to a music night at the local pub, where people from the village play music and dance. Gabriel shows Syvlia his flute: a hollow bone with three holes which makes strange, haunting music. It’s his playing that Sylvia can hear at night. 

    Syvlia and Gabriel explore the forest together. He confesses that his family moved to the village recently because he was suicidal. He says that exploring the forest, connecting with the past and the natural world, has helped him feel renewed. Together, they make Sylvia a hollow bone from the wing of a buzzard. 

    Sylvia’s mum returns to the city to help one of the children she cares for as a social worker. Sylvia feels herself becoming wilder, stranger. Walking the forest playing her flute for hours on end, she feels awakened. 

    One night, she encounters a girl with seashell jewelry. Sylvia introduces herself, but the girl says nothing. The girl shows Sylvia how to carve spirals into stone with her flint scraper. She knows that the girl is her, from another time; when she wakes from her vision, the spirals are covered in moss. She feels as though she died and was renewed that night.

    Sylvia and Gabriel play their hollow bones at the pub open mic night and one of the people there recognises Gabriel’s from her childhood–this ancient thing has passed into new hands. 

    Sylvia returns to the city and plays the hollow bone at a protest. She tells the crowd that they are all “ancient and brand new…the forest and the city…shy and wild…with each other always.” (p. 199). They may be small and frail like the hollow bone, like the music, but together they can change the world. 

    A strange, haunting and beautiful tale of renewal and change. History is embedded within us, and returning to cultural roots can help us to build stronger relationships as communities and within ourselves. The story of Andreas also shows how past mistakes survive with us always, and that part of accepting history is accepting responsibility for those mistakes. Within strengthened communities and with renewed energy, it is easier to care about the world around us and fight for a better future. 

    Overall, the story emphasises the strange power of music and the wonder of connection. 

    Themes

    history, connection, spirituality, activism, culture, music, inspiration

    Content Notes

    1. bloody x 9, Jesus x 1 (p. 84). 2. Sylvia’s father, a photographer, was caught in an airstrike in Syria (p. 36). 3. Andreas used to be a Nazi. 4. Adults drink alcohol (p. 45, 59). Smoking (p. 56). Sylvia has a glass of wine with dinner (p. 134). 5. Self-harm scars (p. 84). Suicidal ideation (p. 91, 126). 6. An unknown couple kiss (p. 56). Sylvia and Gabriel kiss (p. 186, 192).. 7. Gabriel wonders if Sylvia is some kind of shaman or magic-worker, because she goes into the darkness to transform herself and comes back with spells and world-changing music (p. 63-64). Rumour that ghosts rouse around the totem poles at night (p. 72). When Gabriel first discovered the hollow bone he wondered if the farmer and his wife were shamans–music was magic. “When the magician played the hollow bone, they merged with beasts and birds…play it well enough and you cross the border between the living and the dead” (p. 79). A strange girl–possibly a ghost or echo from the past, possibly Sylvia’s alternate historical self, possibly a visitor from the spirit world–comes to Sylvia’s room (p. 119-121). Sylvia has a vision of carving spirals with the girl and playing music (p. 146-151). Sylvia tells Gabriel she “did cross over” to the spirit world (p164).