Return To Bone Tree Hill

Resource Links,  Vol 14 # 5

Kristin Butcher's novel Return to Bone Tree Hill cen­ters around three childhood acquaintances Jessica Lawler, Jilly Carlisle and Charlie Castle. The novel begins with eighteen-year-old Jessica recalling a dis­turbing night­mare that has plagued her since returning from living in Australia. The introduction establishes a very mysterious, sombre tone. The introductory flashback be­gins quite pleasantly with the children frolick­ing and teasing as seemingly normal 12-year-olds often do. However, the intensity of this nightmare builds once Jessica recalls killing Charlie with a shovel!

Readers will be impressed with Butcher's descriptive introduction. Her writing gives one's mind eye a lot to imagine and grasps readers with her ability to establish the setting and life at Bone Tree Hill with mysterious knack. In the first chapter, Jessica returns to Bone Tree Hill, situated in Victoria, Canada. She returns not only to see her grandmother, but with an underlying motive to search for the actual truth. Did her dream really happen? Could she possibly be a murderer?

It is early in the story where she reunites with Jilly after six long years. Because the girls have kept in touch over the years, their reunion is effortless and it is as if Jessica never left Bone Tree Hill so suddenly years earlier. Jessica's recurring dream is noted numerous times throughout the novel. In each instance, Jessica recalls a little more detail into Char­lie's death. These clues give readers insight and the ability to become literary detectives in this adventure, along with Jilly and Jessica. It is evident that Jessica recalls little from that time. She discovers that Charlie disappeared about six years ago. She learns she can barely remember anything because of a terrible case of meningitis which has partially erased her memory from that time, including speaking with police and searching for Charlie. Not be­ing able to handle her secret any longer, Jes­sica finally reveals her dream and her concern over possibly murdering Charlie to her dear friend, Jilly. While baulking Jessica's theories of murder, Jilly joins Jessica in discovering what actually happened to Charlie. Their search is eventful right to the very end. While the outcome may not be the most desirable, readers are left with a sense of fulfilment that leaves both Jessica and Charlie content and at peace.

Butcher uses significant objects in Jessica's dream/nightmare in an effort to foreshadow — a snow globe, an oak tree, cornfields, and a tin box. She incorporates these objects in an invit­ing manner that creatively sums up the story­line while giving readers that "A-Ha! mo­ment!" With that said, there are some criti­cisms with this novel. Jess's good friend, Jilly, doesn't get as much time on paper as she de­serves. Butcher does a wonderful job creating such a memorable character, it is unfortunate she doesn't develop Jilly into her full poten­tial; she's a sidekick that readers could really love! And too bad Bone Tree Hill has to be a fictitious place filled with its large oak tree and rows of creepy, corn fields. Butcher's de­scriptive tale of such a place makes it hard to believe that it doesn't actually exist! If it did, I think readers would quickly venture up that hill on their next trip to Victoria. — Angela Killeen

Thematic Links: Mystery; Adventure; Dreams and Flashbacks; Friendship; Victoria. B.C.;Canada

CM: Canadian Materials Magazine, Volume XV Number 22, June 26, 2009

I lowered myself to the ground, drew my knees up under my chin, and wrapped my arms around my legs. Then slowly releasing my breath, I looked around. The bank I was sitting on slid gradually into a shallow gorge littered with clumps of bush, spindly trees, and a rocky stream bed chocked dry after a rainless summer. On the far side rose another bank, higher and more imposing than the one I was on, and my gaze moved irresistibly to it.
Bone Tree Hill-that's what we kids had called it, though for the moment I couldn't think why. There were no bones there, just a large rolling hill, barren except for a single oak tree and sun-bleached stalks of rye grass waving their long spears like vigilant sentries. The solder grasses came and went in an endless parade of season, but the oak tree had been there forever. It was the most magnificent tree I had ever seen-as wide as it was tall-branches splayed like outstretched fingers, holding the surrounding countryside close. What it couldn't touch, it watched. From its lofty lookout on top of the hill, the tree saw all-and knew even more.

Eighteen-year-old Jessica, who has been living in Australia for the last six years with her family, has returned to her childhood home in Victoria, BC, to visit with her grandmother before starting school in Alberta in the fall. It should be an idyllic summer-catching up with her best friend, Jilly, and visiting favourite old haunts like Bone Tree Hill, but lately, she's been haunted by a recurring nightmare. In it, she's 12-years-old and playing witn ner rrienas on bone I ree Mill wnen sometning goes terriDly wrong. Jessica ends up killing a boy named Charlie, and the vision is so real, she can't be sure it didn't happen. Along with Jilly, Jessica searches for answers, until finally she recalls the truth of what really happened the day Charlie disappeared.

Acclaimed YA author Kristin Butcher's new novel, Return to Bone Tree Hill, is a riveting mystery that will have teens piecing together the evidence along with Jessica, trying to make sense of her hazy bits of memory and the scenes in her nightmares. Butcher is a talented writer, and the descriptive language pulls the reader right into the book with Jessica and Jilly. It also adds to the tension and overall eeriness of the story and builds suspense.

Jessica is believable, and sympathetic, and a very accessible character. She thinks, acts and speaks in a way teens will understand, and she never comes off as being unrealistic or two-dimensional. Readers won't want to believe that she committed murder, but they will forgive her if she did and be relieved if she didn't. The supporting characters are also well-drawn and likeable, and the author does a good job of bringing them to life. They have personalities and dimension, and they do what real people would do.

The story is well-thought-out and moves along at a satisfying pace. Butcher, while resisting being obvious, offers enough clues that the observant reader can piece the mystery together. Not everything is as it seems, and there are several underlying facts that show up as the mystery unfolds. The "ah-ha!" moment where you think you've got it all figured out never really happens, and there will be lots of unexpected twists to satisfy and surprise the reader.

There is no graphic violence or sexual content, and the story is not overly difficult or disturbing. Though the characters are eighteen and college bound, the content is safe for early teen readers seeking a gripping page-turner.
Highly Recommended. — Rachel Steen

Rachel Steen is the Elementary/YA selection manager at S&B Books in Mississauga, ON.