But, oddly, the bone doesn't appear in any photos. Even stranger, it seems to be growing into a full skeleton . . . one that only children can see.
There's just one person who doesn't find any of this weird--Stanly's little sister. Mischievous Miren adopts the skeleton as a friend, and soon, the two become inseparable playmates.
When Miren starts to grow sick, Stanly suspects that the skeleton is responsible and does everything in his power to drive the creature away. However, Miren is desperate not to lose her friend, forcing Stanly to question everything he's ever believed about life, love, and the mysterious forces that connect us.
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.
Jaxon and Stanly's attempts at photographing the skeleton, and their insistence on entering the competition so that Stanly's family can have some more money are admirable and realistic. It is very easy to suspend disbelief and accept that there is, in fact, a skeleton growing in Stanly's yard. Ventrella gives enough details about trying to hide the skeleton from neighbors and delivery boys, and tells us more about Miren's interactions with it once we start to understand the true nature of its being.
Ms. Francine is an interesting character; since the mother is so frantic and harried, Francine is a great, philosophic counterpart who has time to explain things to the children and take them on fun outings for which their mother does not have time. She gets the quotable lines like "The ones you hold dear never leave you", which is a lovely, if basically untrue, thought.
For a book that is so philosophical, it moved quickly and kept my interest. While this is not as spooky a story as the cover might indicate, I can see it being popular with readers who enjoy books like Benjamin's The Thing About Jellyfish and Goebel's Grave Images.