TITLE: Near the Bone
AUTHOR: Christina Henry
AGE RANGE: Adult
Mattie can’t remember a time before she and William lived alone on a mountain together. She must never make him upset. But when Mattie discovers the mutilated body of a fox in the woods, she realizes that they’re not alone after all.
There’s something in the woods that wasn’t there before, something that makes strange cries in the night, something with sharp teeth and claws.
When three strangers appear on the mountaintop looking for the creature in the woods, Mattie knows their presence will anger William. Terrible things happen when William is angry.
Every time I think I can’t possibly love Christina Henry even more, she releases another book that blows me away and proves me wrong. Near the Bone is quite possibly my favorite thing I’ve read from her so far, and I can easily see it landing in my favorite books of the year list. This book was shocking, captivating, and utterly unputdownable — literally, I wasn’t even willing to take a break for dinner until I finished it, and ended up inhaling the entire book in one sitting because I was so drawn in that I had to know what would happen next right this moment.
Near the Bone is a tough read at its core, as it follows Mattie, a woman who is trapped in a brutal marriage that is abusive in every possible sense of the word. Christina Henry doesn’t shy away from showing the ugly details, but it never feels overly gratuitous, either (and the sexual abuse is off-page, which many readers like myself will undoubtedly appreciate).Mattie is beaten down, but not broken, and her spirit is incredibly brave beneath the veneer of timidity she displays to keep herself safe. I loved Mattie so much and I think that’s a big part of why Near the Bone held me captive so well: I needed Mattie to make it, and I couldn’t look away until her fate played out.
This is a monster story, sure — there’s a fantastic, eerie creature that stalks the residents and animals of the secluded mountain Mattie lives on — but I would caution readers not to go into this story expecting a full-blown creature feature. At its core, Near the Bone strikes me more as a commentary on abuse than anything else: the world abuse survivors live in, the ways that abuse can create a fear and trauma that stalks their daily life, and the reactions on-lookers have, whether it’s victim-blaming, or undying love and support.
I have more I want to say, but all of it is spoiler-y, so click the tag at your own risk:
I was fascinated by the monster’s refusal to attack Mattie herself, and quickly theorized that perhaps the monster had been seeing the abuse as it happened and was attempting to protect her in its own way. We learned at the end that the monster was simply a parent protecting its young, and with Mattie being barely an adult herself, I still think, just maybe, that the “monster” was Mattie’s greatest ally in the end. Even when it took her companions, it seemed to specifically target whoever might be standing between Mattie and her freedom at any given time, and that feels significant to me.
Back to the point, though: truly, I adored every single page of this heart-wrenching, suspenseful read. With a heroine I cheered for every step of the way, a villain I loathed with every fiber of my being, and a beautiful, intense wintry scenery that gave me chills despite the warmth and safety of my home, Christina Henry absolutely blew away every (already high) expectation I had and made Near the Bone a powerful and memorable story that I already can’t wait to re-visit.
WARNINGS (vague spoilers):
graphic domestic violence, rape, mentions of miscarriage and stillbirth, infertility, kidnapping, pedophilia, murder, internalized victim-blaming, misogyny, religious bigotry, death of a parent, descriptions of animal carcasses
a side character is Asian (briefly mentioned)
— destiny ♥