A haunting story of magic and myth, of one boy caught between worlds, and of the lengths he will travel to save those he loves.
Times have been tough for Ash lately, and all he wants is for everything to go back to the way it used to be. Back before drought ruined the land and disease killed off the livestock. Before Ash’s father went off to war and returned carrying psychological scars. Before his best friend, Mark, started acting strangely.
As Ash trains for his town’s annual Stag Chase—a race rooted in violent, ancient lore—he’s certain that if he can win and make his father proud, life will return to normal. But the line between reality and illusion is rapidly blurring, and the past has a way of threatening the present.
When a run in the mountains brings Ash face-to-face with Bone Jack—a figure that guards the boundary between the living world and the dead—everything changes once more. As dark energies take root and the world as he knows it is upended, it’s up to Ash to restore things to their proper order and literally run for his life.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Violence; Bullying; Killing of animals; Suicide of a parent
Booklist (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7))
Grades 7-10. Ash has been training for months for his village’s annual Stag Chase, the modern iteration of an ancient ritual to usher in a prosperous season. This year, Ash will be the revered Stag Boy, leading a pack of Hound Boys on a chase around the mountains. He should be elated, but he’s struggling with both the return of his PTSD-afflicted father and his ex–best friend Mark’s eerie descent into a violent, weird obsession with both the pagan roots of the Stag Chase and a mythical being, Bone Jack, who monitors the gateway between life and death. Crowe cultivates an unsettling atmosphere with ghostly apparitions, threats of violence, and descriptions of grotesqueries, such as a rotting stag head and a cape of crow carcasses. Amid the looming danger, Crowe leaves plenty of room for meaningful conversations about family, loyalty, and mental illness, particularly pertaining to Ash’s father. Though this might seem like just another ghost story, there’s subtle depth here, too, and teen fans of both horror and literary fiction will find lots to like.
Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2016)
In a grim season, one rural tradition seems less like a boys’ romp and more like a gateway for the old powers.This ought to be a banner year for 13-year-old Ash, finally selected as the stag boy. As the lead runner in his British town’s annual Stag Chase, Ash should be preparing to race his best friend, Mark, and the other boys their age, hounds to his stag. If only the whole town weren’t shattered with grief. A foot-and-mouth outbreak has devastated the area, with tragic consequences; Mark’s dad hanged himself in the barn. Ash’s own father, an army captain, has returned from the war—afflicted with PTSD, haunted by visions and rising alcoholism. Even the Stag Chase itself seems corrupted. Ash sees creepy crows in the woods, skulls draped in the trees, ghost stag boys, and (most uncanny) Mark living in the woods, dressed in rags and daubed with clay. The old ways are rising, Mark insists, and the stag boy’s destiny will not be a happy one. In haunting, lyrical prose, Ash tries to protect himself from Bone Jack the soul-taker while learning to be a better son and friend. With a deft hand, Crowe twines the ancient folk motifs around her evocation of modern Britain—with one exception: characters’ races go unspecified, leaching it of its multicultural vigor. A lovely, eerie adventure that balances the ancient magic with its protagonist’s very real character growth. (Fantasy. 11-13)
About the Author
Sara Crowe was born in Cornwall and raised all over England by her restless parents. She taught cinema and photography studies until 2012 when she and her partner bought a van and spent the next 18 months travelling around the British Isles. She currently lives in a tumbledown cottage in Lincolnshire. Bone Jack is her first novel.
Her website is http://theforest.me.
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