beautiful story of loss and love
THE SKELETON TREE is a gripping middle grade novel that will touch your heart. Stanley Stanwright is 12 years old, practically a grown up, when he finds a skeleton bone sticking up in his yard. As it rains more and more, the skeleton begins to grow with soon more fingers, then an arm and eventually a whole skeleton poking out of the dirt. Stanley decides to take a photo of it and enter into a yearly Young Discoverer’s Prize for a trip worth $10,000. If he goes on the trip, he can maybe convince the father who left him to come with him- after all, his father is very interested in archaeology as a hobby.
But then, Stanley thinks about his mother, who is working as many hours as she can as a cashier at Walgreen’s, and the medical bills which are piling up due to his seven-year-old sister being sick. Maybe they would let him have the money from the prize to help instead of the trip. Whatever the reason, Stanley decides to enter his skeleton into the competition. However, it is not easy to get a picture of the skeleton, who is camera shy.
With the help of his friend, Jaxon, who also has OCD, and Miren, his sister, Stanley is determined to get a picture, but even when he does, it seems not everyone can see the bones. As Miren gets sicker and sicker, the skeleton, whom Miren has named “Princey,” grows until it walks out of the ground and seems to be making friends with Miren.
What I loved: This book weaves the incredible in with the mundane and deals with a lot of big issues, including sibling illness, financial problems, and parental abandonment. Stanley was a realistic and sympathetic main character, as others attempt to shelter him from the truths of his life. The skeleton tree becomes a fixture/metaphor for the growing problems for which he can feel but for which he cannot name (mainly his sister’s illness). Stanley bears a lot of burden for the hard things in his life, and this book does a great job of identifying his coping strategies.
My absolute favorite character was Ms. Francine, the woman who watches the children frequently and who is from Kyrgyzstan. She is full of all sorts of wisdom, understanding, and can see the skeleton tree which their mother cannot (as some people do not want to see such truths). Without her, this story would have been much harsher and less philosophical.
Although the story does have some spooky elements, they are much lighter than expected, and it is perfect for the middle grade fantasy/magical realism audience. The book moves quickly and easily keeps the reader’s attention. Despite a lot going on, it is all very easy to follow to the inevitable conclusion.
What left me wanting more: The book does not name a lot of the things happening in Stanley’s life, such as his father leaving and his sister’s illness. We see them through Stanley’s eyes with great confusion and uncertainty. I think naming these things would have been helpful to fully grasp the story. On the other hand, this leaves the interpretation much more open and suggests more of the universality of these sad possibilities.
Final verdict: This touching and heart-wrenching story beautifully tells Stanley’s story with hope and love. With some magical elements, Stanley’s life goes through major upheaval, and it is the ones he loves who will support him through it (e.g. Jaxon, Ms. Francine). This is a lovely story of change and loss that will appeal to lovers of middle grade fantasy and/or magical realism.