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Summary: One afternoon, Sally Simplesmith was missing her mom and telling her about how hard life was now. Dad tried hard, but he poured everything he had into his work. Why can't she die, just like her mom? It's not like she had any friends ... and then, a skeletal little dog appeared, jumped in Sally's lap! A gift from her mom. Bones helped Sally see the world a little differently, and things were beginning to change. Until Bones is accused of a crime he didn't commit. Can Sally prove Bones' innocence? This is an engaging mystery for middle grade readers.
Type of Reading: family reading, independent reading, read aloud book, reluctant reader
Recommended Age: read together: 8 to 10; read yourself: 9 and up
Young Reader Reaction: Sally's Bones is clever wordplay set against a charming plot. What you think are stereotypical characters turn out to be more complex than their names suggests. While the characters’ main attributes can be initially inferred from their names, which make them easier to remember, they seem to grow around their stereotypes to reveal a unique character that can be comparable to a real person’s. Expertly chosen synonyms, cliches, and words with double meaning add a humorous touch and give the reader a sense of the story’s tone. At times, though, the plot was mediocre and predictable. All in all, it was a simple, short, but sweet story with a dramatic flair for words.
Adult Reader Reaction: At first I was a little weary of the story, as Mom is dead and Sally is wishing to die, but that quickly gives way to a well-developed story of the here-and-now that girls (and boys) can relate to. The characters are solid, and the "evil-doers" are caricaturistic enough that it takes away some of the darkness (think Cruella deVille). There is just enough of a cliff hanger at the end to leave the reader wanting to know what happens next for Sally and Viola.
Pros: Upper elementary and middle grade students will love Sally for her individuality, perseverance, and loyalty. The rest of us will love the story for its engaging mystery.
Cons: Although the playful, lighthearted nature of the book sets the intended reading audience as children and preteens, the rich, incredibly varied vocabulary exceeds the reading level of a typical ten year-old. For example, kids may stumble over terms such as “faux pas” and “ad naseum”, but as these terms are usually used in reference to another scene, the meanings can be guessed. This story also has a more sinister, spooky edge to it, especially in the beginning, but as with most children’s books, there is also a moral to the story.
Borrow or Buy: Buy. This is a great mystery, but even after you know how it turns out, Sally is a friend you can go back to on a tough day for a hug and some comfort.
Educational Themes: This is a story about character. The characters and the events that entwine them give you plenty to talk about. This is a GREAT selection for a book club, and it would be fun to talk about how readers see Sally and Viola's relationship in the future.
Notes: The publisher donated a copy of this book knowing that we would consider it for review and provide an independent, unbiased profile. This book will be given to a nonprofit to help readers in need.
Literary Categories: Fiction - mystery, family, friendship, crime, middle grade, death and loss
Date(s) Reviewed: September 2011, July 2014
Other Reviews: See Critics' Reviews and reader feedback at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.