Bone Talk

Bone Talk

By Author / Illustrator

Candy Gourlay



Age range(s)



David Fickling Books








Samkad lives in a tribe deep in the Philippine jungle at the end of the nineteenth century, and has never encountered anyone from outside his own tribe before. He's about to become a man, and while he's desperate to grow up, he's worried that this will take him away from his best friend, Little Luki.

However, Samkad's world is about to change utterly. A strange man with white skin arrives in his village, and Samkad discovers the brother he never knew he had. A brother who tells him of people called 'Americans'. Americans who are bringing war, and burning, to Samuel's home...

See also: Candy Gourlay's companion novel, Wild Song



Living high in the mountains of the Philippines in 1899, Samkad's world is his tribe, his village. Now he is about the have the Cut and become a man. He is desperate to play his part in keeping the tribe safe from their enemy, the head-hunting Mangili, even if it means he will no longer be able to enjoy a good scrap with his friend, a girl called Little Luki. But soon Samkad's life is turned upside down. The manhood ritual he has been eagerly awaiting goes wrong, leaving him confused, and his father leaves the village to locate family Samkad barely knows. When he returns, he brings with him a strange white man, an American with different ways and different ideas. As more Americans appear, things for Samkad and his tribe will never be the same again.

I am ashamed to admit that I knew nothing of the Philippine-American War before reading Bone Talk, nor of the people of the Cordilleras. Candy Gourlay has skilfully blended history and narrative to create a fascinating, compelling story which respectfully explores the traditions and beliefs of the people of Bontok. Their treatment at the hands of the Americans is painful reading; their callous exploitation and mocking of the tribe is starkly portrayed and is all the more poignant for being seen through the puzzled eyes of Samkad.

The story is full of well developed characters. Little Luki is my favourite; feisty, determined and loyal, she defies the tribe's conventions about the role of women and plays a truly heroic role. In contrast, for Samkad the traditions of his people are not to be questioned. His longing to be a great warrior like his father, to please the ancients and the ancestors, are all evident, yet he is also impulsive and quick tempered when these values are threatened. Kinyo is also an intriguing character; his fascination with the Americans, his initial wish to distance himself from his own people, offer a contrast to Samkad and Luki's suspicions.

The settings in the book are brilliantly described, celebrating the natural beauty of the world. Bone Talk is an amazing story, combining breathtaking adventure with historical detail. The perfect read for inquiring minds!

252 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Susan Wilsher, teacher.

Suggested Reading Age 11+


Other titles