Beastly Bones: A Jackaby Novel

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Beastly Bones: A Jackaby Novel Book Poster Image
Second fun, supernatural mystery has larger dose of fantasy.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Advanced vocabulary sometimes defined; when without definitions may encourage kids to look up the words. Some dinosaur facts. Stymphalian bird as labor of Hercules explained. Gragger explained. Jackaby claims to have a secret dossier written by Charles Darwin documenting fantasy creatures encountered on the Beagle's famous voyage; a fictitious "Supplemental Material" in the back provides further supposed historic detail that big kids and tweens might find believable.

Positive Messages

You don't have to choose one path or another; you are the path. The only paths you can't travel are the ones you block yourself; don't let fear of failure prevent you from trying things. "Failure is not the opposite of success -- it's a part of it."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Abigail is clever, brave, and loyal. She doesn't think she should have to choose between love and adventure. She likes that others have expectations of her and finds fulfillment in trying to live up to them. Jackaby continues to be a supportive, if eccentric, mentor and demands that she think for herself. Friend Nellie would rather have men's respect than their admiration or affection.

Violence

Fantasy violence is infrequent and not gory, but a fantasy creature kills animals and a minor but important character. A battle with a fantasy creature mentions using firearms and other weapons; injuries are mentioned but not described in detail. Blood's mentioned a few times but not described beyond color. The grisly aftermath of livestock eaten by a fantasy creature is described vaguely. A murder investigation includes vague descriptions of dead bodies. Vampires are mentioned. Abigail is friends with a ghost. A man cuffs another on the back of the head; the recipient laughs it off.

Sex

Abigail and Charlie engage in mild flirting; people mention their obvious attraction. Minor characters' banter is mildly suggestive, but big kids and tweens may not get the double meanings. One kiss.

Language

Rare use of "damn" and "hell." "Bastard" as name-calling once.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention of an intoxicated adult as past public nuisance who was jailed overnight. Abigail longs for city sounds, such as drunken singing in the streets after pubs close for the night.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Beastly Bones is the second novel in a potentially limitless fantasy series begun with Jackaby. Reading the first volume will deepen kids' appreciation of the characters, but it's not strictly necessary to understand what's going on here. Violence is infrequent and not gory, although a scary fantasy creature kills livestock for food and one minor but important character. Blood is mentioned but not described beyond color. Abigail and Jackaby live with a friendly but sometimes eerie ghost. A final battle with the fantasy creature narrates fighting with firearms, and a fiery explosion with injuries is mentioned but not described in detail. There's one kiss and some mild flirtation. "Damn" and "hell" are used a couple of times, and there's one use of "ornery bastard." A range of brief facts are provided about several ancient mythologies. Some advanced vocabulary is defined, but kids may be encouraged to look up those that aren't clear from the context. A fictitious "Supplemental Material" section in the back tells about a secret dossier of Charles Darwin that documents fantasy creatures he discovered, which big kids and tweens may find believable.

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What's the story?

The day after a woman gives Jackaby and Abigail a shape-shifting kitten, she's mysteriously murdered. The killer's trail leads the teen assistant and her oddball-detective boss to the countryside, where she's excited to reconnect with the handsome Charlie. The team of three investigators learns that some dinosaur bones have been stolen from an excavation at a nearby farm. Abigail hopes that her knowledge of archaeology will help track down the thief of the BEASTLY BONES, but what do the mysterious, nonhuman footprints at the dig site have to do with either case? Can Abigail, Jackaby, and Charlie find the murderer, the thief, and the monster?

Is it any good?

This second installment continues the spooky, exciting adventures of eccentric detective Jackaby and his plucky teen assistant, Abigail. It's slightly less supernatural and eerie than the first installment, and author William Ritter brings a popular fantasy creature to the forefront yet still delivers plenty of eerie, atmospheric chills and quirky fun. Readers will enjoy watching Jackaby's quirky methods through narrator Abigail's eyes and will relate as she grapples with figuring out which paths to follow, both in life and in solving the mystery.

Fantasy and mystery fans will find the conclusion satisfying while looking forward to further adventures, thanks to the door left open at the very end.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about fantasy series. Which are your favorites? Would you like to read more Jackaby books? What do you like about them compared with your favorites?

  • Just like in the first book, Chapter 13 is missing from this one. But there's no gap in the story. Do you think the author really left anything out? If so, what could it be?

  • Nellie says she would rather win men's respect than their hearts. What does she mean by that? Do you feel the same way?

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