Thursday, 8 April 2021

Tall Bones by Anna Bailey @annafbailey #TallBones @DoubledayUK @alisonbarrow #BookReview


When seventeen-year-old Emma leaves her best friend Abi at a party in the woods, she believes, like most girls her age, that their lives are just beginning. Many things will happen that night, but Emma will never see her friend again.

Abi's disappearance cracks open the façade of the small town of Whistling Ridge, its intimate history of long-held grudges and resentment. Even within Abi's family, there are questions to be asked - of Noah, the older brother whom Abi betrayed, of Jude, the shining younger sibling who hides his battle scars, of Dolly, her mother and Samuel, her father - both in thrall to the fire and brimstone preacher who holds the entire town in his grasp. Then there is Rat, the outsider, whose presence in the town both unsettles and excites those around him.

Anything could happen in Whistling Ridge, this tinder box of small-town rage, and all it will take is just one spark - the truth of what really happened that night out at the Tall Bones....

Tall Bones by Anna Bailey was published on 1 April 2021 by Doubleday. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

This is a tightly plotted tale of one small US town that is home to a multitude of incredibly flawed characters. It is a stylish and compelling story, one that takes its time to draw in the reader and evokes such a startling and realistic sense of place that one cannot help but look around whilst reading, to ensure that you too are not entwined in the town of Whistling Ridge.

Emma says a reluctant goodbye to her best friend Abi. Abi is determined to attend the woodland party at the Tall Bones. Emma is not sure that this is the greatest idea, but drives off. This is the last time she sees Abi.

There's no urgency in the town despite the fact that Abi is just seventeen-years-old and was last seen with an unknown male. Her disappearance seems almost inevitable, as though the townsfolk were waiting for another thing to happen to her dysfunctional family. What does happen though, is that long held tensions begin to explode, and the people in Whistling Ridge display their inner feelings.

Emma also comes from a family who are looked down upon. Despite the fact that her mother is a Doctor, it's her Mexican heritage that makes the townsfolk feel superior. Abi was her only friend and as she turns to drink to deal with her loss, she also begins a tentative friendship with another outsider. 

As is often the case, the church plays a big part in encouraging the feelings within this town. Pastor Lewis rules this place and his teachings only cover up, and try to justify the rampant misogyny, homophobia and racism that threads its way through the streets. Whilst some of the younger people may begin to question things, they are not strong enough to change anything, and the behaviours continue, with no questions and no punishment.

This is a dark, claustrophobic story that doesn't shy away from showing the prejudices within the characters, and the damage that this can do. At times I had to take a short break from the bleakness, but the beautiful writing always drew me back.

Tall Bones is an intimate and gripping portrait of a community that is filled with flawed and damaging people. Written in a style that is both beautiful and brutal.

Anna Bailey was born in Bristol in 1995 and spent her childhood in Gloucestershire. 

She studied Creative Writing at Bath Spa university and wanted to become a journalist, but ended up moving to Colorado and becoming a Starbucks barista instead. 
In 2018 she returned to the UK, where she enrolled in the Curtis Brown Creative Novel-writing course and wrote her first novel, Tall Bones, inspired by her experience of living in small-town America. 

Twitter: @annafbailey 

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