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Bone Dance

by Martha Brooks

This novel beautifully captures the drift and dance of two teenagers whose lives are embraced by spirits of the dead. Alexandra Sinclair lives in Lethbridge, Alberta with her single mom. (Her father abandoned them when she was born.) She’s struggling to get on with life without her beloved and majestic Grandpa. Miles away, in the Manitoba plains, 18-year-old Lonny lives alone with his tender stepfather (Pop). Both he and Pop have spent years wrestling unsuccessfully with the loss of Lonny’s mother. Though they don’t meet until halfway through the book, Lonny’s and Alexandra’s lives mirror each other’s. Both enjoy a loving if unconventional family. Both are sympathetic, sensitive, and likeably flawed. And both are haunted.

The bones of the story are simple. Pop is forced to sell off a sacred piece of ancestral land to Earl Sinclair, a drifter, a drunk, and Alexandra’s long-lost father. Lonny resents this bitterly, causing him to do something that only adds to his ever-escalating sense of guilt. When Earl dies, he bequeaths his property to his daughter and this mystical land binds Alexandra and Lonny in dreams until they finally meet. Their attraction is immediate and palpable. Alex watches as Lonny “backed up the truck with a careless grace that took her breath away.” Teenage girls everywhere will recognize that spare and perfect image.

Martha Brooks is an award-winning author and playwright. She’s also a jazz singer, which may explain the enticing syncopated rhythms of so much of her work. Brooks leaves space between her images for the readers to insert themselves – and what images! Never self-indulgent, her poetic narrative is incisive and revealing, a fresh way of seeing and saying. We inhale the prairie’s sage and incessant winds even if we’ve never left the suburbs. Having so much of the novel devoted to dream sequences would be problematic in a writer less skilled. In Brooks’s hands the dreams unveil Lonny’s torment, Alex’s sadness, two kids adrift in the harm done by silence. They also reveal the way out, for although this book deals with love and loss, it’s mainly about healing and hope. Read it and weep, but read it.