A SINGLE STONE, by Meg McKinlay, Candlewick, March 14, 2017, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 10 and up)
Sometimes you read a book, and you can’t help thinking about another. A Single Stone, by Meg McKinlay, is one such book.
Jena’s people depend on the mountain and the mica it provides for survival. Long ago, an earthquake trapped the people who were mining the mountain in a small mountain valley. Of the people who were inside the mountain when it crumbled, only the women survived. Since then, the Mothers have been the leaders and protectors, and the members of the line have been the providers.
Jena is the leader of the line — seven girls who work together, squeezing and contorting through the mountain’s tunnels to harvest mica. Mica provides heat and light to the villagers throughout the year, and most importantly during the winter when heavy snows trap them inside for months. Being chosen as a line member is an honor, but it comes with sacrifice — years of denying girls food and wrapping their limbs to keep them small.
No work is more important, yet Jena has a sneaking suspicion that all is not as it seems. Babies are being born earlier and smaller than ever before. Winter is coming fast, and the foundation on which Jena’s life has been built is crumbling.
A Single Stone very much reminds me of Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy. The similarities between the mica and linder are obvious, as is the story of a girl who defies what’s expected of her. But those aren’t really why the one makes me think of the other. Rather, it’s Meg McKinlay’s quiet, but determined, prose that evokes the same feel.
Jena’s relationship with the mica, her respect for it and understanding of it is integral to McKinlay’s narrative. And Mckinlay’s ability to not only paint a picture but draw in the reader as well is magnificent. More than once, I felt myself squeeze between two rocks, heart beating fast as I worked my way through all the angles. The burst of relief when making it through is euphoric.
A Single Stone does start off a bit slowly, but it’s definitely worth pushing through the first bit for what comes later. My one other complaint is that the outcome was clearly telegraphed long before you reach it. While I would have preferred less predictability, it’s not a big enough problem to deter me from highly recommending this book.
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