Sunday, May 27, 2012

Book Review & Author Interview: THE COLOR OF BONES

AUTHOR: Tracy Edward Wymer

SUMMARY: Twelve year-old Derby Shrewd lives in a divided town. Lights live on the Northside of the Line, Darks live on the Southside. Hillside has been that way ever since the Line appeared naturally from the ground, much like a spring welling up from deep inside the earth. 

Now the Line controls the town, keeping Hillside separated, zapping those who come near it and killing those who dare cross it. 

But when Derby, a Northsider, finds a pile of bones stacked on the Line, he sets out to uncover the person's identity. While doing so, he befriends a Southside girl and soon begins to challenge the Line and the town's rules. And then, before he can turn back, Derby goes too far. 

MY TAKE: THE COLOR OF BONES is a pure middle-grade tale that meets all the requirements of a “good read.” I very much enjoyed the book, and I highly recommend it, especially for upper elementary or junior high use in the classroom. It would be perfect for both ELA and social studies classrooms, and would elicit some great discussions about societal issues.

There is a lot I would like to praise about this book. For starters, the writing is very good, and it avoids the two main pitfalls I often see writers fall into when it comes to MG. It does not have any purple prose (overwriting that misses the relatability mark by a wide margin) and it is not drenched with too much colloquial voice. Instead, Wymer’s writing is natural and this makes it an easy read. Or as our own Shannon O’Donnell explained “…the words and the story flow like water.”

The characters and the story are both superb. Young Derby Shrewd (love the name), the likeable MC, is well-rounded and realistically drawn, and through Derby’s pitch-perfect first-person account, the storytelling is both authentic and accessible to middle-grade readers. Derby’s internal conflict about the Line, and how it forces the entire town to live a life of segregation, is poignant and at the same time not abrasively heavy-handed. From the first page to the last, the reader is “there” with Derby, trying to decide how best to overcome the Line and all its Power. In the end, I found it to be such a powerful statement about whether or not your life is really YOURS to live if you are forced to live it under the hand of someone else, in this case, the Line.

The book is a reasonably priced $4.99 for the e-book version and $7.99 for paperback. To purchase, simply click HERE. If you're a teacher, I'd advise investing in a class set (which won't set you back too much). It’s well worth the money.

INTERVIEW: After reading the book, I asked Mr. Wymer for a brief interview, and he obliged. Here is said interview.

Project Mayhem (Mike): First, tell us who Tracy Edward Wymer is? Don’t go all Navin Johnson on us and 3rd-person your response (obscure reference to Steve Martin in The Jerk—not that I’m calling you a jerk). But please do tell us a bit about who you are as a person, and as a writer.

Tracy Edward Wymer: I'm a native Hoosier but now a left coaster. When I'm not teaching and writing, I like these things: Books. Movies. Running. Kids. Family. Sports. Laughing. All that stuff gives me life.

Project Mayhem (Mike): So what inspired you to write THE COLOR OF BONES?

Tracy Edward Wymer: I grew up going to my grandparents’ house in a tiny, tiny town in southern Missouri. Even in the 1980s the town was segregated. My cousin and I rode our bikes all over that town, but we were not allowed to ride our bikes “over there”. So, many years later, when I started writing, I was drawn to this concept of a divided town. But I’d read, and even taught, books like The Outsiders and Maniac Magee, and I knew I had to write something original and fresh, something that no one else had read before, even though it’s based loosely on the same concept.

Project Mayhem (Mike): Every writer has a story about how the book found its way to print. In a nutshell (either a peanut or a walnut), what is your book’s story from that first light-bulb idea to publication?

Tracy Edward Wymer: I struggled to tell Derby’s story for almost 10 years. I wrote, and even finished, other projects along the way, but I always came back to Derby and the divided town. There was something powerful and unique in that story, and I had to get it right. Then, in the fall of 2011, I received a 3-page email/critique from a literary agent. She pointed me in an entirely different direction. I tossed around her ideas for weeks, and in the end her notes and suggestions felt right. I rewrote the book from page 1 and never sent another query. For a host of different reasons, I decided to publish the book myself.  

Project Mayhem (Mike): What were your favorite books as a wee lad?

Tracy Edward Wymer:  I fell for this obscure “baseball” book called Highpockets, by John Tunis. I also read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at least 50 times. I’d say Roald Dahl was my hero back then. My biggest influence was a stage production of The Cask of Amontillado (Poe), which I saw around fifth grade or so. They made this character, the one who was being walled in, magically disappear on stage. Ever since then, I’ve been drawn to the dark and magical.  

Project Mayhem (Mike): Last question. Every kid has an unrealistic dream of what he or she wants to be when they get older. For example, I wanted to be a fire engine when I grew up (I had to settle for a Halloween costume). What unrealistic notion did you hold as a wee lad that might seem silly now, but was actually an honest-to-goodness dream you held as a kid?

Tracy Edward Wymer:  I wanted to be a big league ballplayer. That’s a generic dream, and one that many kids have, but it’s the truth. However, I also wanted to be the Karate Kid.


  1. This sounds like an interesting read! Thanks for the interview.

  2. Very interesting! All the best to you, Tracy.

  3. I'll definitely have to look this one up. Thanks for the interview, Mike and Tracy.

  4. Who didn't want to be the Karate Kid (when I wasn't busy playing Jedi in the front yard)? This sounds like an excellent book. Thanks for featuring it, Mike, and thanks for stopping by, Tracy.

  5. I'm so glad you enjoyed this book as much as I did, Mike. Your interview questions were awesome. I especially liked learning the origins of the story idea!

    Great post, Mike and GREAT book, Tracy!!! :)

  6. Great interview! And wow, Tracy, amazing that at your age, you also witnesses such segregation. It's crazy how long it lasted (and unfortunately racism still exists today). Can't wait to read your book!

  7. Tracy, this is a wonderful review and interview (Thanx Mike). Thanks! I finished Bones this morning and am impressed by your characters, phrasing, and overall message. Well done, my friend! Best of luck with the book!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!