Published by River Otter Press on Jan. 2013
Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
Bones Buried in the Dirt is a novel in short stories that follows a boy named Peter as he grows from a child of four to a pre-teen of twelve. Atkinson shows us many moments, from the most everyday to the most memorable, that shape Peter’s personality and values during the time when he is the most impressionable.
Although Atkinson writes about childhood, a time often looked back on as idyllic, these stories never feel nostalgic. Rather, Peter’s first-person narration makes the stories feel as though they are being told in the moment. For example, the stories told by four-year-old Peter have the simple observations, emotions, and grammar constructions of a very young child. As Peter grows and his understanding of the world deepens, the stories become more complex.
I really loved the way this book captures childhood in a way that feels real. Instead of looking back nostalgically on birthday parties and playing in the sun and not having any responsibilities, Atkinson evokes the gritty realities of being a kid. Nearly every story called forth a memory of my own childhood — some positive, but many uncomfortable. Through Peter’s narration, I was taken back to my own days of finding bones buried in the dirt and having “archeological digs” to find the rest of the skeleton, being jealous of a friend’s toys, the grand lies told to impress classmates, building forts, first sexual explorations, boys chasing girls around the playground, tattling on enemies, “wars” between the neighborhood kids (there were some epic crab apple fights on my block), and learning right from wrong. Through these very personal — though also seemingly universal — childhood experiences, I remembered all the intensity, cruelty, desire for power, and desperation for approval that children have.
It was also interesting to see, in the final stories, how Peter’s experiences have shaped him; there is a clear progression toward maturity as he learns from the incidents of his childhood. We begin to see a boy who is not consumed by a desire to fit in as a macho tough guy, but one who is concerned for the well-being of his friends. I enjoyed seeing how each moment of his childhood contributes to who he is and who he will become.
Bones Buried in the Dirt is an achingly honest portrayal of childhood in all its brutality, joy, confusion, and excitement, and a fascinating examination of how every half-suppressed memory is part of our becoming.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.