“Bones & All” by Camille DeAngelis is a gripping blend of horror and coming-of-age narrative, centering on the unusual life of Maren Yearly, a teenage cannibal.
This 2015 novel delves into themes of identity, monstrosity, and the quest for understanding, set against a backdrop of unsettling events.
The story begins with Maren’s haunting revelation: as an infant, she devoured her babysitter, setting off a chain of grim relocations led by her mother, Janelle. Her cannibalistic urges, which she dubs “the bad thing,” resurface at age eight during summer camp, where she consumes a boy named Luke.
Maren’s life is a series of gruesome incidents, typically involving boys she meets. When these encounters turn intimate, Maren’s urges take over, leading to the boys’ demise.
This pattern culminates in the death of Jamie Gash, after which her mother abandons her, leaving Maren to grapple with her actions and a profound sense of loneliness.
A chance meeting with an elderly woman, Mrs. Harmon, introduces Maren to Sully, a man who recognizes her nature, as he shares it. He reveals his own twisted souvenir – a rope made from the hair of his victims.
Disturbed, Maren departs, determined to find her mother and grandmother, only to witness a family scene she feels too monstrous to interrupt.
Her journey then intertwines with Andy, a Walmart worker, and Lee, a fellow ‘eater’ who becomes her companion. Together, they travel, confronting their pasts and the dark nature of their existence.
Lee shares his harrowing story, including his mentally unstable ex-girlfriend, Rachel, and his sister Kayla, whom they visit.
Their path leads to Minnesota in search of Maren’s father, Frank, whom they discover is institutionalized. A notebook from Frank unveils shocking truths: he, too, is an eater and had left the family to protect them.
The revelation that Sully is Frank’s father – and thus Maren’s grandfather – adds a twisted familial layer to her story.
The climax of the novel is as shocking as it is tragic. A confrontation with Sully leads to a life-or-death struggle, ending with Maren striking him down.
After reuniting with Lee, the cycle of violence continues as Lee consumes an aggressive college student, and Maren, in a moment of passion and fear, consumes Lee.
The novel closes with Maren, now working in a library, facing yet another potential victim, Jason.
The ending is left ambiguous, with Maren poised on the brink of either continuing her horrific pattern or perhaps finding a new way to live with her monstrous nature.
Maren is the protagonist of “Bones & All.” She discovers at a young age that she has cannibalistic tendencies, which she refers to as “the bad thing.” These urges often manifest during intimate or emotionally charged moments.
Maren’s journey throughout the novel is one of self-discovery and grappling with her monstrous nature. Her character is complex, marked by guilt, loneliness, and a desperate search for belonging and understanding.
Janelle is Maren’s mother. She is aware of Maren’s cannibalistic urges and constantly moves from place to place to protect her and cover up her actions. Her decision to abandon Maren after the death of Jamie Gash signifies a breaking point in her ability to cope with Maren’s nature.
Sully is an older man who, like Maren, is a cannibal. He meets Maren when she is with Mrs. Harmon and later reveals a morbid trophy – a rope made from the hair of his victims. Sully plays a significant role in unveiling the truth about Maren’s family and hereditary nature.
He is revealed to be Maren’s grandfather and Frank’s father, adding a deep, dark twist to the narrative.
Lee is another ‘eater’ Maren meets. He becomes her companion and love interest, sharing a similar burden of being a cannibal. Lee’s character is complex, marked by his troubled past, including a mentally unstable ex-girlfriend and a strained relationship with his sister, Kayla.
His relationship with Maren is intense and ultimately ends tragically.
Frank is Maren’s father, who is revealed to be in a psychiatric hospital. He also shares the cannibalistic trait, creating a hereditary link to Maren’s condition.
His backstory, revealed through a notebook, shows the depth of his struggle with his nature and the lengths he went to in order to protect his family.
Kayla is Lee’s sister. She appears briefly in the story when Lee and Maren visit her. She expresses concern for Lee and later plays a role in passing messages between Lee and Maren.
Her character adds a layer of normalcy and family connection in the otherwise dark narrative.
Andy is a worker at Walmart who encounters Maren. He confronts her about shoplifting but doesn’t turn her in.
His character is significant as he represents a moment of normal human interaction for Maren, though it ends in violence when he tries to be intimate with her.
Barbara is Maren’s paternal grandmother. She provides crucial information about Frank’s past and Maren’s lineage, helping Maren understand more about her father and her cannibalistic trait.
Rachel is Lee’s ex-girlfriend who becomes mentally unstable after witnessing Lee’s cannibalistic act. Her character adds depth to Lee’s backstory and highlights the traumatic impact their nature can have on others.
Jason is a character introduced towards the end of the novel. He flirts with Maren, who is working in a library. His interaction with Maren at the end of the book is pivotal, as it leaves readers questioning whether Maren will continue her cycle of violence or choose a different path.
1. The Nature of Monstrosity and Identity
Central to the narrative is the exploration of what constitutes a monster.
Maren, the protagonist, embodies this theme through her cannibalistic tendencies, which she perceives as her monstrous nature.
DeAngelis skilfully uses this literal monstrosity as a metaphor for the figurative demons that everyone battles. The novel provokes readers to question the essence of identity: is it defined by one’s actions, inherent nature, or the capacity for change?
This theme is a constant undercurrent throughout the novel, as Maren grapples with her self-image and the societal labels placed upon her.
2. The Quest for Connection and Understanding
Despite its horror elements, the book is fundamentally a story about the human need for connection.
Maren’s journey is marked by a profound loneliness and a desperate search for someone who understands her true nature. Her interactions, from the transient connection with Andy to the deeper bond with Lee, underscore the universal desire for acceptance and companionship.
This theme is poignantly juxtaposed with the novel’s darker elements, highlighting the often-painful quest for understanding and acceptance in a world that is quick to judge and ostracize.
3. The Dichotomy of Love and Violence
DeAngelis intricately explores the complex relationship between love and violence.
Maren’s acts of cannibalism are often intertwined with feelings of intimacy and affection, blurring the lines between these seemingly opposite emotions. This theme is further complicated by the character of Lee, who shares Maren’s cannibalistic trait, leading to a relationship where love and violence coexist in a delicate balance.
The novel delves into how these intense emotions can be both destructive and redemptive, offering a nuanced look at the darker aspects of human relationships.
“Bones & All” is a chilling exploration of what it means to be a monster, the complexities of human connections, and the painful journey towards self-acceptance. DeAngelis masterfully weaves a tale that is as horrifying as it is heartbreakingly human.