A single stone by Meg McKinlay
Walker Books, 2015. ISBN 9781925081701
(Age: 13+) Recommended. An island . . . a valley . . . a village . . . a completely isolated civilization with strange customs and beliefs to rationalize survival. Jena is a young girl, barely a teenager, but she leads an elite group of petite girls trained to tunnel into the surrounding mountain to harvest Mica shards, which are a crucial source of heat throughout severe winters. The girls in the 'line' take great pride in their role and aspire to their dangerous vocation by abstinence and bodily dysmorphia commenced soon after birth. Jena is disenfranchised when she discovers that the 'Mothers' who lead the village, are prematurely inducing the babies born to tunnelling mothers, in order to breed an even smaller and more efficient 'line'. In this state, it becomes easier for Jena to grasp alternate perspectives and seek opportunities to escape their mountain prison. Coincidently, these are presented to her when an outsider stumbles upon a path into the valley. What happens when Jena moves that last stone?
Meg McKinlay uses her fictitious village to show how body image can be influenced by cultural expectations and beliefs. The Mothers bind, wrap and starve petite females who are highly prized. Conversely, boys and big boned girls, have less relative value. They are just mouths to feed. Optimal status and resources are given to the families of the seven girls in the 'line' who collectively ensure the survival of the village. These themes will resonate with teenage girls and to some extent help us to ponder our own cultural obsession with body image.
The inaccuracy surrounding the properties of the mineral, mica, is a disappointment in terms of continuity and belief. The author could have suspended our belief by choosing another mineral, real or imagined, whose contradictory inflammable qualities are less well known. On the whole, a fantasy, a real-world parallel and not a bad piece of escapism.