A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay<br>

cover image

Walker Books, 2015. ISBN: 9781925081701
Highly recommended for age 11+. (Note for younger readers: Information about birthing is veiled; significant deaths occur, but only basic detail is given). Themes: Bravery; Society Rules; Matriarchal rule; Fantasy; Defying authority. Jena is a very successful harvester of the valuable wealth that is locked deep within the mountain crevices, a mountain that also locks them into their valley and community. A significant earthquake from the past has kept the community from any attempt at escaping their circumstances, and so they must learn to survive. Collectively, they control their society rules to cope with their restricted freedoms. They particularly manipulate their young girls by binding them or readjusting their bone growth so that they remain slender and lithe and flexible enough to creep inside the mountain cracks in order to seek out the mica that becomes their winter fuel. This claustrophobic searching creates a tension for the reader as we too travel with the very young girls as they twist through the fissures within the mountain in the search for potential warmth for their community.
The complication for the story comes when Jena discovers that the older Matriarchs in the community have been giving pregnant mothers 'tonics' that effectively create early births, and then potentially smaller daughters. Her journey of discovery to reveal the myths of her community and to unearth the dangers of their practices is almost like a journey through a labyrinth of societal secrets.
I can highly recommend this book. It is a fantasy tale, but is really an exploration of what can happen when the struggle for survival, combined with isolation from outside influences, causes guidelines to be created that can eventually undermine the fabric of the society. It takes a brave soul to question the status quo. This book contains predominantly female characters, with few male characters.
Carolyn Hull