The year is 1995, and Nate Cartwright is alone and at a loss. He was fired from his job as a journalist amidst scandal and his parents are both dead. He has few friends and nowhere to really go, so he decides to cross the country to the remote family cabin his parents left to him. Nate figures he will use the solitude to determine what he is going to do with the rest of his life. So he is totally unprepared when he arrives at the cabin to find a man and a little girl living there.
It is clear that the man, named Alex, and the little girl, who calls herself Artemis Darth Vader, are on the run, but Nate isn’t sure from what. He has no idea if Alex is protecting Art like he claims, or if he is out to hurt her. And Alex isn’t interested in explaining much. It also soon becomes clear that someone is after Art and Alex and their lives are in danger. Nate knows he should probably get the heck out of there and call the police, but something about Alex and this strange little girl is too compelling and calls upon all his journalistic curiosity. For some reason, Nate can’t quite make himself leave or turn them in. But with the bad guys on their heels, Nate must make a choice about whether to walk away or join Art and Alex in their escape.
As Nate spends more time with Art and Alex, he learns more about just what makes Art so strange and special. It is impossible to believe, but Nate sees the proof. There are those who want to take Art, to use her for their own dark purposes, and this is something that Nate and Alex will not allow. The three have formed a strong bond and they will fiercely protect the little family they have made. But the bad guys are out there and closing in, and now Nate, Art, and Alex must fight to escape before it is too late.
So when I read a T.J. Klune book, I generally expect one of two things: either the book will be hysterically funny and I’ll laugh until I cry, or it will be a gut-wrencher that will give me all the feels and leave me in a puddle. The Bones Beneath My Skin is an interesting story in that it doesn’t quite fit in either of these two molds. I’d definitely say this book falls more on the side of drama then comedy (though there are some humorous moments), but this is definitely more of a sci-fi/suspense story than one of angst and pain (though there is a little of that too). So I think with this book Klune has really given us something interesting and a bit of a departure from his usual fare, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
First off, I am going to do all I can to avoid spoilers here, because I want you guys to discover for yourselves just what is up with this strange, precocious little girl (and if you don’t want spoilers, avoid the post tags). Now I’ll admit that I figured it out pretty early on, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment as there is plenty of fun to be had learning how all this came about and just what has been going on in that top secret facility in the mountains. Klune has built a really interesting world here that blends a contemporary historical with science fiction in really clever ways. I found the backstory on what is going on with Art fascinating and well developed. The lore and world building is really creative and quite well done. The story is also grounded firmly the mid-90s and there are lots of pop culture references from the time that are worked in nicely. Also, if you are a Klune fan, you may enjoy the cameo appearance by Big Eddie from Into This River I Drown, as well as a passing mention of Green Creek, home to his Wolfsong gang.
This book is also suspenseful and exciting as the trio are on the run from the bad guys for most of the story. There is a nice intensity, knowing that around the next corner could be trouble. There are also some great, high octane moments with lots of action. But there are also many quiet places where we see the growing bond among Art, Nate, and Alex. It is clear as the story starts how much Alex loves Art, and as the book continues, we see that love grow to include Nate. The three form a found family, three lost people who are on their own and somehow find that connection together that brings them what they have been missing. The themes of family and home are strong throughout the book and it is really heartwarming to see how much these people care for one another and how intense a bond they have formed.
I would say the romantic relationship between Nate and Alex is the least developed aspect of the story. The book has somewhat of an enemies to lovers vibe to it. While Nate is mostly befuddled and overwhelmed by what is going on, Alex is so fiercely protective of Art that it takes him a long time to warm up to and trust Nate. Slowly the ice thaws between them and ultimately their relationship warms to friendship and love. I would have enjoyed a little more on the relationship end, as it sort of feels like we know it is happening between them, but don’t actually see it. But the epilogue makes up for this in spades as it is warm and yummy and left me with all the feels for the future for these men.
So this story feels like a bit of a departure for Klune, but one that I really enjoyed. It is exciting and well-drawn and heartwarming. It made me laugh at times and it made me choke up a bit at others. But it is also a really enjoying sci fi/suspense that kept me on the edge of my seat. There is so much to like here and i encourage you to give The Bones Beneath My Skin a try.