BOOK REVIEW: Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer

Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet—her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bodies after they’ve been “acquired.” But when her mom brings home a live specimen, Nita decides she wants out — dissecting living people is a step too far.

But when she tries to save her mother’s victim, she ends up sold on the black market in his place — because Nita herself is a supernatural being. Now Nita is on the other side of the bars, and there is no line she won’t cross to escape and make sure no one can ever capture her again. 

Nita did a good deed, and it cost her everything. Now she’s going to do a lot of bad deeds to get it all back.

Out now from HMH Teen.

**SPOILER FREE**

Personal Rating: i’d let this book murder me and toss me to the bottom of the Amazon River

Recommended For: Those that go NOOOOOO WHYYYYYY whenever a protagonist chickens outta doing something seriously messed up but would’ve been so! juicy! to watch!

This book plunges unapologetically into the darkest parts of humanity. No selective filter that only presents the “cool” sides of violence while protecting you from getting too traumatized. No shying away from issues ’cause it’s scared it’ll make you uncomfortable.

Rebecca Schaeffer doesn’t give a shit if you’re disturbed.

SO, uhh… do think twice about reading this if you’d be unsettled by human trafficking, bodily mutilation, detailed dissection sequences, and general human depravity that makes you stare off into the distance thinking of how shitty the world can be. Not everyone is into reading about that, and that’s fine. You’ve been warned though.

She imagined the feel of the spoon in her hand as she scooped the eyes out. She imagined the texture of the heart through her gloved hands, placing it gently in a jar. Slowly piece by piece, she went through the full dissection until there was nothing left unpackaged or unlabelled. Not even bones.

It’s too simple to describe this book as just “dark”. Lemme tell you a big problem I have with a lot of books and media that get slapped with that label. In the end, they either

1. don’t actually let their protagonist get their hands dirty,

2. just has them do “badass” things to be ~ * COOL AND EDGY * ~, or

3. try to convince you the correct thing to do when all odds are against you is to hold on to your honor and never lose your “humanity”. Because falling to the level of your tormentors would make you no better than them. Or something.

Nah, SCREW THAT.

This book is about breaking all the rules other people made and living by your own. Because if all those other assholes are laughing and running around being comfortable with what they do while you’re sitting there doubting yourself at every turn, how are you supposed to win? Especially when you’re a person like our dear protagonist Nita, who secretly likes some of the messed up shit she does. She just thought she wasn’t “supposed to”. Well, when she’s betrayed and thrown into a cage in a hidden black market in the rain forests of Peru, where there are “spiders that eat birds“, she has to determine what she’s willing or not willing to do real fast. You cannot hope for some mystical force made up in your head to punish those you hate. If you want them to pay, the only reliable way is doing it yourself.

At some point, the sounds changed, as though Mirella’s throat had been damaged from overuse, and the noises she made were closer to scratchy gasps than screams. Each time Nita heard one, she imagined the pressure of the scream ripping the skin of her throat until it bled. That was just what it sounded like.

Nita cried at one point. Not sobs, just sad tears that leaked out her eyes as she stared at the ceiling.

Not Even Bones is ultimately a story about a girl coming to terms with her true self. Not what other people want her to be, not what she thinks she should be, but the raw, complicated human under all the social constructs and expectations forced onto her by both others and herself. She faces the vilest parts of humanity and then grasps it within herself for power. A big theme: morals are optional. They have no real binding power. If you make life-or-death choices expecting others will abide by the same principles you do… honey, you’ve got a big storm coming.

The book is set in a world where the hottest pieces of news revolve around “unnaturals”, supernatural creatures inspired by real-life legends from cultures all over the planet. There are pain-eating zannies inspired by Thai krasue, organ-slurping kappa inspired by Japanese folklore, color-changing dolphin humans inspired by West Amazon legends, and just all kinds of stuff like that. The tales are spun with unfortunate realistic detail that throws endless shade at how the world tends to freak out about minorities. There’s a fictional organization, the International NonHuman Police (INHUP), that’s basically a giant sideeye @ pretty much all the incompetent global organizations out there tangled up in corruption and red tape. The author is well-traveled, and it shows.

The story takes place in Peru. Though please don’t think it’s trying to imply black markets and corruption are part of Peruvian culture. Those things are hidden in plain sight all across the world–the book makes this very clear. It doesn’t hold back from exposing issues that have everything to do with the grim, realistic aspects of the book and nothing to do with the supernatural stuff. I admire this, because just because your focus is on problems that pop up in your fantasy system, it doesn’t mean you should ignore the 100% realistic ones.

But what gave Nita pause was that most people seemed to be speaking English. She caught American accents as well as British. There was Spanish in there too, but the sea of faces throughout the market was more white than brown.

Not that there weren’t white people in South America. The demographics were actually pretty similar to the States, with large white, black, Indigenous, and Asian populations. And like the States, the majority of the ultra-rich— the type of people who could afford the delicacies the market had to offer —were middle-aged white men. So seeing a lot of rich white people in a market like this wasn’t surprising.
But the amount of English being spoken was.
Nita had made the very stupid assumption that because she was in Peru, the dealers and the buyers would mostly be from Latin America.
They weren’t.
They were from everywhere, and the universal thing they had in common was money. It showed in their tailored clothes, bleached smiles, and the sharp-eyed bodyguards flanking them. These were the exploiters, the people who felt like they could come into a country and do whatever they wanted.

Conquistadores in suits.

If all this sounds deathly intriguing to you, definitely give the book a try. It’s a quick, smooth read that starts at 100 and just never stops going. The tension is as omnipresent as the humidity over the Amazon–which you will feel, because the descriptions are detailed yet efficient enough that it maintains a picture in your head while refusing to trip over its own pacing.

As for the characters, I recommend admiring their shenanigans at a healthy distance. These are not characters meant for you to project onto or to step into their shoes. They are messed up. They are creepy. They will make choices that you gasp at. Some protagonists seem like psychopaths because of missteps in writing. These ones are straight up… not harmless, unassuming people. On purpose. I don’t want to put things in terms of “good” or “bad”. As this book will show you, humanity is far too complicated for black-and-white divisions like that. It’s dangerous to dismiss anybody who horrifies you as “monsters”, as if the average person wouldn’t be capable of committing the same actions when pushed into the same circumstances.

If you ever find yourself going “oh my god, did she just do that?”, the answer is “yes. yes, she did.” Nita is not here to be a noble, inspirational girl. And neither are any of the people she will struggle against.

You know what though? One great thing about this book–NO PROBLEMATIC ROMANCE!! There was one that had me on high Iffy Romance Alert, but thankfully, their dynamic doesn’t stay creepy throughout the whole thing. As people, they’re both creepy as hell, but their relationship is, like, goals. Villains can have healthy romance too. You know what? They’d probably even have better romance. They wouldn’t take each other’s personas at face value and then end up shockingly disappointed when they find out otherwise. They’d probably, you know, ACTUALLY COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER.

My biggest gripe with this book is that it left me wanting a lot more. More depth to the side characters, more worldbuilding, more answers to the plot questions it raised. But don’t worry–It’s not one of those first books that simply cut off with no climax or resolution to an actual plot arc. Since this is a series, I’m sure future books will give me more.

Order Not Even Bones on Amazon / Barnes and Nobles

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