Bonechiller by Graham McNamee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Bonechiller was a quick, but satisfying read. Our protagonist is a young man who is still dealing with the death of his mother from brain cancer. He was very close to her, and her death has sent him and his father on the run, from place to place, to escape the grief of her passing. Lately they have landed in an small town in Canada, in the deep of arctic winter. He befriends fellow travelers, military brats, Pike, Howie, and Ash. Pike and Howie are two brothers named after weapons (Howie being short for Howlitzer), and Ash is a half-Ojibwa girl who is a boxer, and Danny's crush. Danny's just taking it day to day, enduring the extreme cold, and the weight of grief that is almost too much to carry. Soon, he will face a creature from his worst nightmares, a monster who marks him for a future meal.
That's when things start to get weird. What kind of monster is stalking Danny? We don't really find out. All that we know is that he's ancient, preying on many, many teens over the years. He stings them, injecting them with a venom that changes them, making them cold from the inside out, and allowing it to penetrate their dreams, until they give up and come to him, to be devoured. Danny thinks he's all alone in what he has seen and survived, until the monster attacks his friend Howie. Howie is the brains in his family. He investigates to find out what they are facing, and how to destroy it. I liked the surreality of the dreams that Danny and Howie must wade through, and escape, to prevent the monster from taking them, as it had countless others. But time is running out.
I thought this was a very good book. I liked how short and brisk the writing style was. It conveyed much, with an economy of words. McNamee managed to make this story both supernatural/monster horror, and a coming of age story about a boy who watched his mother succumb to a brain tumor. When I read these young adult books, I always appreciate the strength of young people to deal with what seems like far too much on their young plates. In this case, Danny suffered through the death of his mother, and her drawn out illness from the cancer treatments; and now he has to deal with the fact that a monster is changing him into a popsicle so that it can eat him. That seems like a double whammy to me.
I liked the portrayal of friendship between the quartet, and the growing romantic relationship between Danny and Ash. Ash is a tomboy, through and through. She boxes, goes hunting and fishing, and knows guns better than Danny. He freely admits she can kick his butt, and he thinks it's sexy. I loved that Danny appreciated Ash for what she was, and vice versa. Pike was an interesting character--very gun and ordnance crazy. He liked to set things on fire, shoot them, or blow them up. His talents come in handy when they face off with the monster. I liked how Howie was the resident geek/genius. His research skills prove invaluable. The friendship that these four teens shared spoke to me. They accepted each other for who they were, and united to face the threat that two of them faced.
The fifth important character (besides the monster), is the arctic Canadian wilderness. Below zero temperatures and extended dark hours every day is no joke, and it made for fascinating reading to see how people faced this kind of environment and went about their daily lives. No snow days for them.
All the pieces of this story come together to form a successful whole with Bonechiller. It was a unique idea and it was well-executed. I still have some questions about the nature of the monster, but we don't always get all the answers in life. It was good enough to watch these brave teens face and conquer this threat, and to see Danny (and also his dad) start on the road to emotional healing from his mother's passing.
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