I was lucky to read and review an early copy of this novel by Bish Denham. Set on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin islands in the 1960s, The Bowl and the Stone centers on young Nick and Samantha (Sam), their friendship, and some spooky ghosts.
Considering the age of the protagonists, you might think this is a story primarily aimed at the middle school set. Much of the first half of the book goes into delicious details of the rich imaginary life Nick and Sam enjoy. Amazon explorers, pirates, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are just a few of the roles these two take on in games that span the island from the beaches to the ruins of a sugar plantation. They drink limeade, plan a joint 12th birthday bash, and one even wears a crustacean shell mask for Halloween.
Image: Ian Sane
The life these two lead makes me want to weep in nostalgia for my own childhood. I was lucky enough to grow up on the edge of a huge neighborhood. On one hand, I had miles of hilly, paved roads for biking and rollerskating. On the other hand, my house was surrounded by woods with streams and climbing trees and an old dump where you could find blue glass bottles on a lucky day. We also had a dock on the bay of a huge manmade lake (Lake Hartwell) behind the house. For many years, my dad would take us out on our second-hand speed boat to swim or let my mom waterski.
Image: Sarah McKagen
It was a childhood where I could hike, wade, or build forts in the real world, not just in Minecraft. I had a huge territory to explore, and no one monitored me as long as I was home in time for dinner. Today, I don't let my kids go to the mailbox without watching from the window.
Image: Emma Forsberg
So, in that sense, The Bowl and the Stone is for those of us who remember childhoods spent outside, racing the sun home on a bike or splashing through a stream a month before it was really warm enough to do so. It's a love letter to the past.
Image: Jumbie Bay by David Barnas
But go back far enough in history and the past holds deadly secrets. When the ghost enters the tale, Nick and Sam's friendship is tested as the tension mounts. I appreciate how Denham presents the horror of slavery and the connections between the past and present. How the title elements weave into the story is pure art. Finally, the time spent featuring the relationship between Nick and Sam pays off in a bittersweet ending as well. This is a five star read. I highly recommend it.
Bish is running a rafflecopter contest if you'd like to win a copy along with a comprehensive book tour to share more about St. Johns Island, jumbies, and all sorts of things.
What are your fondest memories of childhood?