Book Review: “Skeleton Tree” by Kim Ventrella

When Stanly notices a bone growing in his backyard, he knows he’s made a special discovery – maybe one that will win him a $10,000 archaeological prize and convince his dad to come back to live with Stanly’s mother. When his younger sister, Miren, finds out about the bone – which seems to be growing into a full-on skeleton – she seems to have a special affinity for “Princy.” But is Princy what’s making Miren so sick, or is there something else going on?

Skeleton Tree is a peculiar and melancholy novel with a lot of heart. For a young kid, Stanly has a lot going on – his parents’ separation, caring for Miren during her illness, and dealing with grief. Among such events, which tend to make even adults question the world around them, a skeleton growing out of the backyard doesn’t seem so strange.

Despite his difficulties, Stanly’s world is populated by people who support him, mainly his best friend Jaxon and Ms. Francine, the family’s babysitter. With their help, Stanly navigates the supernatural events happening in his backyard as well as the all-too-real ones going on inside his home.

Author Kim Ventrella brings death close to her protagonists in a way that isn’t frightening; only, inevitably, sad. I think that Skeleton Tree may help comfort middle-graders facing the death of a close family member, and is a tool for the development of empathy in those who haven’t experienced such a loss. Both whimsical and dark, Skeleton Tree sets the perfect tone for crisp fall days when night falls early.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.