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Silent to the Bone

Absorbing mystery includes child abuse, sexual manipulation.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

Parents and teachers can use this book to discuss topics ranging from the mystery to silent communication. Scholastic has a lesson plan that's worth checking out.

Positive messages

All the hallmarks of a classic mystery story surrounding an infant in a coma. Ultimately justice -- and friendship! -- prevail.

Positive role models

Connor is a loyal friend, determined to discover the truth.


An infant is abused and injured. Bran is left out of his father's new life, then is falsely accused of harming his infant half-sister.


Bran has a crush on the adult au pair, who tricks him into helping her with her bath. When he gets an erection, she scolds him, and he begins doing "whatever she wanted me to do" to keep her silence -- including baby care, or not telling about finding her with her boyfriend in her room. Connor also is quite taken with Vivian.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Vivian, adult au pair, smokes cigarettes. Adults drink wine.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this book includes all the hallmarks of a classic mystery story surrounding an infant in a coma. Connor is a loyal friend, determined to discover the truth, and ultimately justice -- and friendship! -- prevail. But mature details make this a better choice for tweens and up: the plot deals with a baby being shaken and injured, and there's an undercurrent of sexual tension in the book between two 13-year-old boys and an adult au pair.  

What's the story?

Here are the facts: Branwell Zamborska's baby half-sister, Nikki, has had a head injury and is in a coma. No one knows whether she will survive. Vivian, the Zamborska's British au pair, has given a deposition that Bran, after showing an unhealthy interest in changing Nikki's diapers, dropped her. Bran has lapsed into silence, unable to speak, and has been placed in an institution while prosecutors ready a case against him. Only his best friend, Connor, believes in him. Connor visits Bran every day and develops a way to communicate with him using flash cards. But instead of telling Connor what happened, Bran uses the cards to send him on a series of errands designed to help him piece together the whole story.

Is it any good?


The engrossing nature of this story can't be denied. It follows the formula of a classic mystery, with red herrings, a climactic revelation, and detective Connor putting the pieces together. Readers will admire Connor's dedication to his friend, and be glad when justice -- and friendship -- prevail.

Unfortunately, none of the key elements -- the characters, the emotions, the psychology -- ring true. E. L. Konigsburg's child characters have always been precociously gifted, but in recent novels, such as The View From Saturday, she has strayed perilously close to making them indistinguishable from very clever adults, and here she goes over the line. Neither Connor (who tells the story) nor Bran are credible young teens; they don't talk -- or, more importantly, think -- like kids at all. And the adults in the story, save Margaret, are just detestable. Readers may also not be convinced by the connection between the nanny's sexual manipulation of Bran and his silence (and be troubled that it is never really called abuse). Though the identity of the culprit will surprise no one, readers might be unsatisfied by the punishment given to the person who actually abused Nikki.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about mature material in books for kids and teens. This book features both a badly injured baby and an au pair, who is inappropriately sexual toward a young teen. What age is the book best for?  Did the material here surprise you?

  • Have you read other E.L Konigsburg books? Do you see any similarities between this book and her other works, like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? How are her protagonists similar?

Book details

Author:E. L. Konigsburg
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Simon & Schuster
Publication date:January 1, 2000
Number of pages:261

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Adult Written bykingslyle December 16, 2008

Not for 6th Graders!

Each year I encourage my children to read books from the school's suggested reading list. I often read the books before my children do so that I can discuss the content with them. Last summer I read Silent to the Bone by E. L. Konigsburg, a selection from the 6th grade list. I was appalled to find Konigburg’s book to be several grades over my child’s head in terms of its sexual content. It is about a young boy who has an erection and feels so guilty about it that he literally stops talking (read the title again). The episode occurs when the naked, older, unmarried babysitter cozies up to him in the bathroom after bathing. The narrative includes a reference to a “Viagra thing” happening to the boy. The scene takes place after the babysitter has had sex with her biker boyfriend in the adjoining bedroom while the parents aren’t home. Naturally, I don’t think that this book should be “suggested” for sixth graders. Remember, sixth grade children are 10, 11 and 12 years old. The sexual content of this book is not what we should be teaching our 10, 11 and 12 year olds, at least not without the consent of the parents. To do so in this example would mean that we would first need to explain to a 10 year old the notion of premarital sex, why the main character in the book feels so guilty about his adolescent erection, and what Viagra is and why it was referenced. In Silent to the Bone, we learn in fiction that premarital sex is acceptable and that normal adolescent events are shameful and cause for terrible guilt.
Adult Written byhoopstoad April 9, 2008

Tread carefully

My 12 year old was upset by the distrubing sexual content that is revealed in the last pages. I should have been more wary about the age range given on the book itself, which said ages 10-14; I think ages 14 or up would be better.
Adult Written bybmackey55 April 9, 2008

Not for young teens

My 12-year-old daugther was very embarrased by sexual content in this book. The conduct of the adult nanny with a 13-year-old boy is very disturbing and not something for young teens to be reading.