06 March 2017

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay, 2017

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Every girl dreams of being part of the line—the chosen seven who tunnel deep into the mountain to find the harvest. No work is more important.

Jena is the leader of the line—strong, respected, reliable. And—as all girls must be—she is small; years of training have seen to that. It is not always easy but it is the way of things. And so a girl must wrap her limbs, lie still, deny herself a second bowl of stew. Or a first.

But what happens when one tiny discovery makes Jena question the world she knows? What happens when moving a single stone changes everything?
(272 pages)

Yikes. Just, yikes. This book has some serious grit in it. We're talking dystopian, cult-like, surgically-alter-your-daughters-to-make-them-thinner grit.

I know, when I say that your thoughts immediately leap to eating disorders and low self-esteem. But in Jena's world, the "Mothers" who run the village encourage girls to be as small as possible so they can crawl deep into the heart of the mountain that surrounds them and harvest the mica that provides them with fuel. It's a cruel world, this closed-off little village that has been completely isolated for generations because of a landslide that closed off the pass leading outside the mountain. This really weird semi-religious cult society has risen from the ashes of the villages that lived there before the landslide, and everyone is taught from birth to worship the mountain (which is seen as the giver of all life, since it holds the mica they need for survival). It's a dog-eat-dog world, one where life-giving mica is allocated to families in proportion to their usefulness, and where parents willingly bind their baby daughters from birth to force them to grow up small. It's like a more practical version of the Chinese foot-binding custom: they bind the whole body, to make suitable seekers of fuel, and then they actually use surgical procedures to alter girls whose bones are becoming too big. It's gruesome and horrible, but it also makes sense in a sick sort of way. After all, I suppose I'd rather be tiny than dead.

But the trouble is that all too often the girls become both. Because the mountain is treacherous, and maneuvering through its crevices a nightmare. I can't say much about specific instances of this, because I don't want to spoil the story, but some horrible things happen on and inside the mountain. It's painful and gruesome to read, but so fascinating at the same time that I devoured the entire book in one sitting.

Unfortunately, I can't talk much more about the plot, because even the most basic aspects of the story's set-up are teased out throughout the book. The story of Jena's past, for example, comes in bits and pieces: we learn that she's living with her best friend's family very early on, but the exact reason for this isn't fully revealed through flashbacks until over halfway through. I always love this sort of narrative technique, so I'm honestly not complaining, but that does make reviewing it a little trickier.

Actually, I think I'll just stop here. I really enjoyed reading A Single Stone and that others will, too. Have you read it? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section down below!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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