Many authors set out to write ‘important’ novels about ‘big issues’ that are meant to be buoyed by the stories that are pervasive throughout the culture at the moment. These are sometimes met with success, but Julie Cantrell’s The Feathered Bone is a different breed. This is absolutely an important novel with a big issue at its core (especially for those of us along the I-12 Corridor), but it is not meant to be buoyed by stories of missing girls – this is not a novel that feeds on the news. This is a novel that serves its subjects. The Feathered Bone gives us a fictional story of a girl abducted and the small world she was torn from so that the reader may gain knowledge and empathy about an all too real problem that is so far from most of our daily lives as to feel completely impossible.
Amanda Salassi has a normal suburban life; two best friends, a great kid, a typical marriage with its ups and downs…until she doesn’t. While chaperoning her daughter’s sixth grade field trip she loses one of the kids in her care – Sarah, the twelve-year-old daughter of her childhood best friend, is abducted from a crowded restaurant. The aftermath of this event changes the course of Amanda’s entire life. The realities that spring up in the aftermath of Sarah’s disappearance are handled with an amount of empathy and grace that is admirable. Cantrell’s true strengths as a writer come from her ability to understand and channel deep suffering. I could feel the pain radiating from many pages, but alongside it I could feel hope and abiding love.
While The Feathered Bone is a devastating story, it is ultimately a story of hope. Cantrell tackles several big issues that affect many of our lives but that we often prefer not to talk about. From marriages that have lost their love and become habitual (even abusive) to teenage depression, these are not issues that are rare, but they are so closeted that most are afraid to speak out about them. Amanda feels a great guilt about not being the wife that her husband needs; thinking that if she could just be better things would be better. Her daughter, Ellie, feels an unbelievable grief and guilt over Sarah’s abduction wishing that it had been her who was lost, not Sarah. Both women lose sight of their worthiness. The ultimate message of The Feathered Bone is to hold tight to hope because you are loved and you are deserving of love.
The Feathered Bone is a novel you will want to pass around. One of the books purposes (though this never feels obvious while reading it) is to educate. Art exists to hold a mirror out to the world, and Cantrell uses that mirror to shine a light in some dark places. The darkest of which is human trafficking. Cantrell chose to tell the story primarily through Amanda’s perspective but we get several short glimpses of what Sarah is going through. It is painfully obvious what is happening to Sarah and while that may be triggering to survivors, Cantrell takes care that the reader never becomes too mired in the horrors Sarah experiences. Many authors use gory details to express the dark reality of rape and abuse to the point that it often feels self-serving and gratuitous. Cantrell does something greater – she uses the simple innocence of her young character’s voice.
Sarah’s voice coupled with Amanda’s story will make you want to educate yourself about the realities of human trafficking and what we can do both to help those that make it to the other side of this tragedy and what we can watch for to protect those in our community. Julie Cantrell grew up here in Walker and set The Feathered Bone in the area both because of how much she loves Livingston Parish and due to the very real danger that this issue is here.
During the course of her research for the novel, Julie met many professionals who are working to end human trafficking in Livingston Parish, the Greater Baton Rouge Area, and beyond. We will be hosting a discussion regarding human trafficking at the Livingston Parish Courthouse on February 27 at 10am with a few of these individuals including Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard, a representative from the State Police, and Emily Morrow and George Mills from Trafficking Hope. Each of them has dedicated themselves to the eradication of human trafficking and will offer several insights as to how we can help and what the community needs to know.
"Feathers--no matter what size or shape or color--are all the same, if you think about them. They're soft. Delicate. But the secret thing about feathers is . . . they are very strong."