Sixteen-year-old Maren lives with an unusual affliction – spontaneous cannibalism. Since she was a baby, whenever she has warm or romantic feelings toward a person, she can’t stop herself from eating that person, causing her and her mother to be constantly on the lam, running from the last incident before law enforcement got suspicious. Now Maren is 16 and her mother has left her to fend for herself with only some money and Maren’s birth certificate, which happens to list her absent father’s name. With nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, Maren hits the road to find the father she never knew. Along the way she meets regular, friendly people who just want to help her as well as other cannibals who have learned to cover their tracks as well as Maren has. Her journey takes her all over the Eastern U.S., making this a horror/road trip novel as well as a something that is borderline paranormal romance. The premise is compelling in its strangeness if you can stomach the cannibalism, which is rarely described in gory detail. In the hands of a more indulgent or Stephen-King-esque writer, this could have gotten really gross, but DeAngelis gives you just enough detail to let your imagination fill in the gaps. However, this lack of detail begs a lot of questions. For example, at the end of a feeding, Maren is left with a grocery bag’s worth of remains, much less space than is needed to simply pack up the bones of an adult human. So what’s in the bag? Just clothing? Did she eat the bones (as the title suggests) and any parts in the bag are just what she refuses to eat out of necessity or decency? What are her teeth like to allow her to do this? How is this even possible? Am I overthinking this? How long until I can eat a medium-rare steak without thinking about this book? This almost goes without saying, but there is also a lot of suspension of belief going on. Things seem to happen too easily and a lot goes completely unexplained.
This book reminded me of a grad school conversation in a class about censorship and gatekeepers. Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book and a man of almost consummate children’s literature knowledge, taught the class and on the last day asked us to think of topics that are still so taboo in literature for children, which in our case included YA, that they are never written about. We didn’t come up with many ideas but cannibalism was one that we agreed was off-limits for children’s lit. The Alex Awards are for adult books that appeal to teens, so I can’t quite check cannibalism off the list of verboten topics based on Bones and All, but it’s pretty close.
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal