Small-town America is no simple thing in Laura Ruby’s novel Bone Gap, winner of the 2016 Printz Award. The author brings the titular town to vivid life through the subtly mystical story of high-school senior Finn O’Sullivan, nicknamed “Moonface” by the townies for his inability to look people in the eye. Finn lives with his older brother, Sean, and the two have become entangled in the life of Roza, the beautiful Polish girl who suddenly appeared in their barn. Delicate myth and magic are sewn through the narrative as cleverly as the best magical realism. We contacted Ruby immediately after she heard the news about her Printz win.
What was the first thing that went through your head when you found out you had won the Printz?
I kept thinking, “I won? I won?” I believe I even said that to the committee when they called. 2015 was a particularly strong year for YA, with so many amazing books published. To have Bone Gap honored in such a year is mind-blowing. Especially since Bone Gap is such an odd book, a book I wasn’t sure would resonate with anyone else.
Who was the one person you couldn’t wait to tell about the award?
I got the call on Sunday afternoon, which meant I had to keep the news to myself till Monday morning. But I’m weird about (good) secrets in that I enjoy keeping them, at least for a little while. I like to turn the news over in head and try to wrap my brain around it before sharing. So, though keeping my mouth shut for nearly 24 hours was a challenge, it was also sort of fun, if that makes any sense.
That said, Bone Gap is dedicated to two people: Anne Ursu, who had faith in my abilities as a writer when I lost all of my own, and my husband, Steve, who knows me like no one else. These were the people I wanted to tell, the people I wanted to celebrate with. After that, it was my editor, Jordan Brown, and my agent, Tina Wexler, who both took a big chance on me and on this book.
“To have Bone Gap honored in such a year is mind-blowing. Especially since Bone Gap is such an odd book, a book I wasn’t sure would resonate with anyone else.”
Do you have a favorite past Printz winner?
Do I have to pick just one?! I adore Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese. The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean is original and spectacular. Jandy Nelson is a brilliant writer, and I love the powerful voices she created in I’ll Give You the Sun. (Just to name a few.)
What’s the best part of writing books for a younger audience?
Kids and teens don’t have the same genre expectations that adults have. That is, you can use elements of many genres in one book, you can write a literary sci-fi thriller ghost story romance if you want, and teens are not necessarily confused or daunted by that the way adults might be. It’s so freeing.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from your readers about this book?
The best part of reader reactions is how different they all are, as different as the readers themselves. Some readers seem to like the dual love stories or the references to myth, some people respond to the magic in the book, other people like the rural setting, and some people just like horses and bees and kittens. I’ve found the positive responses to the feminist themes in Roza’s and Petey’s storylines particularly gratifying.
Have you read or listened to past Printz acceptance speeches? Are you excited (or worried!) about your own speech?
I had the privilege of hearing Jandy Nelson speak in person last year, and she was smart and inspiring. And of course, Libba Bray’s speech was absolutely hilarious as well as full of wisdom. It will be hard to equal either of them, but I’m excited to try.
What’s next for you?
I just got home from a long residency in Minnesota—I’m on the faculty at Hamline University’s MFAC—so the first order of business is getting some sleep and chasing around my new kitten, Fergus. Then, I want to read a stack of books that I haven’t had the chance read before now. But I handed in a new middle-grade novel a couple of months ago, and I’ve got a number of new YA projects cooking, so it won’t be long before I’m itching to write again.
Author photo by Stephen Metro.