Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ARCH OF BONE by Jane Yolen


by Jane Yolen ; illustrated by Ruth Sanderson

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-61696-350-7
Publisher: Tachyon

Fourteen-year-old Josiah Starbuck of Nantucket becomes marooned on an island with his dog, Zeke.

Extemporizing on Moby-Dick (a work with which the target audience is highly unlikely to be familiar), this story opens with a man who tells Josiah to “Call me Ishmael” showing up at the Starbucks’ house early one morning to deliver the news to Josiah and his mother that the whaler Pequod, on which Josiah’s father shipped out as first mate, went down with all hands except Ishmael. Josiah is understandably upset, but his grief turns (unconvincingly) to anger at Ishmael and his mother. Needing to clear his head, Josiah sets off in his catboat with Zeke and is caught by a storm. Knocked unconscious by the boom, Josiah wakes up to find himself shipwrecked on a tiny, unfamiliar island. He and Zeke eke out their survival on the scrubby island, on which sits a coffin-shaped fisherman’s shack and an arch made of a whalebone’s jaw—which delivers disturbing dreams to Josiah (the strongest portions of the story) whenever he falls asleep against it. The story’s inconsistencies (whether it’s early or late spring, wouldn’t a boy whose mother makes blueberry jam recognize a blueberry bush out of season? How does Josiah know that Ishmael floated on a coffin when Ishmael did not relate that part of the story?) undermine it, and the two narrative sections—the dreams and Josiah’s survival activities—don’t transmute into a whole. The exquisite black-and-white illustrations, however, deliver a rich resonance.

A beautifully illustrated patchwork.

(Historical fantasy/fiction. 10-14)