Riveting, brutal, and deeply powerful, The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee is the story of two families—one Lakota, one white—and the tragedy that links them. This book is a masterpiece with a plot that’s as winding as Agee’s lyrical sentences. The story begins with two murders. The first victim is Star, a Lakota woman that Nebraska rancher J. B. Bennett finds by chance. When he stumbles upon the crime scene, he is gunned down. The rest of the novel centers on the families of these two individuals. A literary mystery, this tale of vengeance, guilt, love, and betrayal is set ten years after the massacre at Wounded Knee, and the characters are as scarred as the land in which they dwell.
“I am only a girl, a wound in the earth that will not close, I unbury myself over and over until there is justice.”— Star, a murdered Lakota woman, speaking to her sister in a vision
Along with Agee’s gorgeous sentences, the complexity of the characters and their relationships to one another is one of the book’s greatest strengths. I disliked almost every character at various points, which is something I normally find off-putting. However, the personalities were so vivid that it didn’t matter. Agee strategically reveals only small portions of each character’s backstory at a time, which kept me very engaged and compelled to find out the rest of the story.
The timeline of The Bones of Paradise is very fluid, and at one point we are transported back to the historical tragedy at Wounded Knee. Agee’s writing in this section is stunning as we view the massacre through the eyes of a first-hand witness. The events are horrifying in the extreme, and she does not shy away from the violence. Still, her lyrical prose softens it slightly. I was completely transfixed by the narrative.
Overall, I thought the Native American representation in this book was well done, as was her depiction of racism. Agee’s portrayal of white attitudes is honest and multi-faceted. We have a racist white man’s POV and other racist minor characters, but we also have the POV of Dulcinea (the wife of J. B. Bennet), a white woman who is unaffected by racism. The one qualm I have with The Bones of Paradise is that I would have liked to have more from Rose, the sister of the murdered Lakota women. She is such a fascinating character!
If you’re a literary fiction reader or a fan of historical fiction, this beautifully crafted novel is a must-read.
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2 thoughts on “You Must Read This! The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee”
Sounds like a great one and I adore historical fiction. Add mystery and you’ve got my favorite blend!
Thank you for your review – this definitely sounds like a must read!