A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay
A uniquely written, layered story about finding the courage to challenge the only life you have ever known.
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14-year-old Jena is leader of the line, a group of seven girls who must scrape and squeeze themselves through the mountain to harvest the precious mica needed to ensure The Village survives through the bitter winter. Her training has made sure she is up to the task, her wrappings have kept her small as has her repeated denial of food. But when Jena makes an unsettling discovery she is forced to question this way of life and wonder if there could be an alternative.
What could it hurt, to move a single stone?
I love this book’s concept. Meg McKinlay builds a world that is far enough removed from ours to help focus on the issues she wants to highlight, but close enough for us to relate to. I really love the fact that all the leaders are female as are the ‘heros’ of the village – the girls working the line – as this actually does a lot to take away from usual gender issues and focus on the broader concepts. I also thought that using Jena to question her way of life was brilliant and all the more powerful since she was respected, reliable and essentially had one of the best living standards in The Village.
The story is mainly told from the point of view of Jenna and her unique voice is one of the things that makes this novel stand out.
The plot is tight, well paced and unfolds beautifully. There were enough suprises to keep me guessing and enough parallels between our world and Jenna’s that I felt comfortable, yet still challenged. The world building was fabulous and most of the time quite vivid, although there were a couple of times when I wasn’t able to picture Jenna’s descriptions, especially around the mountain, but this didn’t detract from the strong story.
Writing: The writing is what most stood out for me. McKinlay manages to create a unique, yet still familiar voice. The phrasing harks back to an earlier time, but with enough modern variation to make it original.
This book is recommended for young adults 13 years and over but I would suggest that an advanced 11 year old might also enjoy this. There are some broad, older themes containted within, but no swearing or intimacy.
The themes in this book are coming of age, responsibility, struggle, footbinding, body dysmorphia, pressure to conform, medical tampering, social norms and cultural beliefs, family, religious fundamentalism.
Things to ask and discuss:
If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry. Ask these questions anyway and coax the answers and
out. Or just let your child mull it over alone. Don’t worry if they don’t want to talk about some of the things listed here, it’s ok to just let them talk about the bits they want to. Bottom line is, they will love that you are showing an interest and asking for their opinion, even if they don’t always show it
*Spoiler alerts in the questions!!*
“We did not know. We could never have imagined.
1. What is the purpose of wrapping the girls when they are small children? How is this realated to the term ‘cleanskin’? Can you think of another culture that used binding?
2. In China girls feet were bound so that their feet would stay small. These girls could then hardly walk but it was considered desirable for girls to have tiny feet. Was the reason The Village wrapped its girls different to this? If so how?
3. Why are girls so important in Jena’s culture? How does this compare to our culture today? 100 years ago?
4. In The Village, who did the Mother’s consider their God —who’s signs did they look out for and interpret?
5. The Mothers excused their behaviour by saying that they meant no harm, that they had only been thinking about the line and the survival of the village. ‘We did not know. We could never have imagined’. Theirs was a case of the end, justified the means. Why, even when they were exposed do you think they were so reluctant to accept or even contemplate an alternative way of life?
6. Why do you think the author called the book ‘A single stone?’ Is this a literal meaning? Or does it go a lot deeper?
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