Up Late with Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks


Summer is the time to catch up on all the books! But sometimes, summer is the time to re-read old favorites.  I find myself drawn to re-read certain books every few years, especially if they’re books I recommend to my students a lot.  Rule of the Bone, by Russell Banks, is one of those books worthy of a re-read.  I have described this book to many as the 90s Catcher in the Rye.  My brother first recommended it to me, and I now hand it to many of my disenfranchised teenagers (especially boys) when they can’t find anything they want to read.

There seem to be two parts to this story–the first part where Chappie leaves his mother and abusive step-father, searches for himself, gets a tattoo, takes the name Bone, and meets I-man, a Rastafarian, who leads him to the second part of his journey.  In the second half, Bone goes to Jamaica, looking for his father (and looking deeper for his own identity). Throughout the book, though, Banks’s prose precisely captures the mind and heart of a sweet teenage boy who seeks meaningful relationships and a life worth living.

One of the reasons I love this book so much is that Bone, while a teenager, is really self-reflective.  I just love how Banks gives him these insightful observations, like: “But when you’re a kid it’s like you’re wearing these binoculars strapped to your eyes and you can’t see anything except what’s in the dead center of the lenses.” I think a lot of adults could relate to this book.  It is definitely not Young Adult Fiction, it is adult reading, but I find many of my teenagers really appreciate reading it because of the verisimilitude.


I’m going to give you a spoiler here, because this book ends with my favorite last lines.  Bone has an epiphany about himself as he looks up at the stars: “They were the only three people I’d chosen on my own to love, and they were gone. But still, that morning in Mobay when I saw Russ for the last time, I saw clearly for the first time that loving Sister Rose and I-Man and even Bruce had left me with riches that I could draw on for the rest of my life, I was totally grateful to them.”

So enjoy your summer reading, and don’t feel bad about picking up a favorite book to re-read.  Like Heraclitus says, you can’t step in the same river twice, and I think you can’t read the same book twice–because you always come to it as a different person.  Rule of the Bone is one of those books I’ve read many different times as many different people.

Posted by Kate, VP secondary PCTELA

Up Late with Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks

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