Silent to the Bone – e.l.konigsburg

silentWhen thirteen-year-old Branwell’s baby sister ends up in a coma, Branwell stops talking and it’s up to his best friend, Connor, to figure out what really happened the day Nikki was hurt. That’s pretty much the plot of e.l. konigsburg’s YA novel, Silent to the Bone. Luckily, in konigsburg’s skillful hands, this story ends up being so much more than the sum of its parts.

I cannot explain why Branwell and I became friends. I don’t think there is a why for friendship, and if I try to come up with reasons why we should be friends, I can come up with as many reasons why we should not be. …Friendship depends on interlocking time, place and state of mind.

Connor is, in fact, a true-blue friend to Branwell. After Nikki is hurt, Branwell is sent to the Behavioral Center for observation. Connor visits him frequently and despite Branwell’s silence, Connor knows in his heart of hearts that Branwell did not hurt his baby sister.

Connor devises a genius way of communicating with Branwell based, in part, on Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In that book, a paralyzed man dictates his life story by blinking his left eye. Connor creates a series of flash cards using words he thinks might trigger a reaction. Slowly the true story of what happened to Nikki is revealed.

Silent to the Bone ended up on just about everyone’s “best” list including the ALA, New York Times and School Library Journal. One of the reasons, I think, is that the book is layered. There’s the central mystery of what happened to Nikki; there’s the complicated blended family relationships, there’s the love and petty jealousies that mark any solid friendship.

Branwell and Connor are believable characters. Connor’s older sister (from his father’s first marriage) helps Connor disseminate all the information he gathers from his visits with Connor. Connor is only a kid, sure, but he’s tenacious and smart and he is determined to figure out what really happened.

This is a great book for thoughtful readers.

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