A Single Stone follows a girl named Jena, the leader of a special line of girls that travel deep into the mountain in search of mica, a mineral that they use as a light source as well as to keep their homes warm through harsh winters. The mica is strictly rationed and can be the difference between life and death for some families.
The book’s strength was in its setting and the author’s use of language to create a village that felt real. The characters were all decently written and I found myself caring about the girls in the line. Their descent into the mountain had a feel of mystery to it, as if they were returning to nature. The village is enclosed in a valley surrounded by mountain. Food and other necessities are scarce, winters are rough, and the village felt just as claustrophobic as the crevices in the mountain. I really enjoyed the atmosphere created in this novel and was drawn into the story immediately.
I was horrified to learn about the way of life in the village and the lengths that they went to maintain the line. The village worshiped the mountain and the natural world, yet the way they measured and schemed ways to obtain smaller and smaller children was a subversion of nature. I felt anxious and even a little outraged as Jena uncovered the Mothers’ secrets. Then as the mystery began to unravel well… It all got dropped. Nothing ever actually comes of that story line, which was sort of disappointing. In fact the entire second half of the novel was sort of a let down. Sure, I got the sort of ending I wanted. The twist about Jena’s past can be guessed long before the big reveal, and I don’t know. The story just sort of fell flat, which is a shame because it held so much promise.
“A boy was simply another mouth to feed, another body to keep warm during the winter. A boy might wield an axe or trap a bird. He might mend a roof or skin a rabbit. Such things were useful; there was no denying it. But a daughter? A daughter could do those too, and much more besides.”
In terms of the writing itself, the narration shifted back and fourth between Jena in the present day, Jena’s past, and also to a mysterious girl named Lia. It was a little confusing at first, since we know nothing about who Lia is, where she’s from, or even if she is from the same time period. Lia’s side of the story adds some mystery, though switching back and fourth between narrators and time lines was a little bit disjointing. The reasoning for the constant jumps in narration boils down to the author using the tried and true tactic of withholding information from the reader. We get glimpses of Lia or a memory from Jena’s past that eventually add up to something big in the end, but until then it’s nothing more but little scraps which can be frustrating for a reader.
I’ve also been wondering still about the plausibility of certain elements in the story, which also ruins things a bit I know. I just can’t help but wonder, how much light and warmth can mica actually provide? I’ve found some information about some variations of mica glowing and used for insulation but the book is vague about how it is actually used for heat. The village takes great measures to make sure that mica is never near fire because it is highly flammable and would burn out too quickly, but everything that I’ve read about mica is that it is actually fireproof and can withstand very high temperatures. Everything in the book relies on the mica harvest, even more important than food, and it just seemed so unusual to me.
Even though the mica plot line is a little bit shaky and the ending was rushed and too convenient, I can forgive it because it was genuinely an entertaining and engaging read.
Title: A Single Stone
Author: Meg McKinlay
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: May 1, 2015
Every girl dreams of being part of the line—the chosen seven who tunnel deep into the mountain to find the harvest. No work is more important.
Jena is the leader of the line—strong, respected, reliable. And—as all girls must be—she is small; years of training have seen to that. It is not always easy but it is the way of things. And so a girl must wrap her limbs, lie still, deny herself a second bowl of stew. Or a first.
But what happens when one tiny discovery makes Jena question the world she knows? What happens when moving a single stone changes everything?