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Bookbed reviews: ‘Bone Talk’ by Candy Gourlay

by KB Meniado


More than a hundred years ago, a boy named Samkad thinks he knows everything about the world. He knows the mountains he lives in. He knows his people. He knows his blood enemy, the Mangili. And he wants to become a man, to be given his own shield, spear and axe to fight with. His best friend, Luki, wants all the same things – but she is a girl, and no girl has ever become a warrior.

But everything changes when a new boy arrives in the village. He calls himself Samkad’s brother, yet he knows nothing of the ways of the mountain. And he brings news of a people called ‘Americans’, who are bringing war and destruction right to his home . . . Get a copy from national and online bookstores / Read reviews: Goodreads


If you’re not a regular reader of historical fiction like me, this one’s going to be a slow start for you too. I admit it also didn’t help I didn’t connect and empathize with Samkad right away, and instead gravitated towards the secondary characters, like his strong willed girl (space) friend Luki, and his mysterious long-lost brother, Kinyo.

But that changed when the world-building became more vivid, sweeping me right into the action. And that’s what kept me turning pages—the chase for answers and adventures, packed with very Filipino nuances. I imagined being in the Cordillera, putting my self in the lives of highlanders mingling with lowlanders and foreign captors. I imagined how it was to be in the middle of an invasion, of a war, my knowledge of what already existed and what remained to be unexplored clashing and coming together. I imagined living a version of Filipino culture that’s untainted and faithful to the ‘original’ norms. And I appreciated the very fact that I could do so because the author didn’t hold back, from animal sacrifice rituals down to battle bloodshed.

In spite of my initial disconnect from most of the characters, this book reawakened my excitement to pry and probe our identity and history again. I couldn’t be any more delighted when I found the Enrichment Guide and short Q&A in the appendices.


This is my first Candy Gourlay book. I had just picked it up when it was announced it had made the Carnegie Medal shortlist (congratulations!). So naturally, my expectations climbed, so to speak. Happy to report that this book met me right at the peak. Bone Talk is one-of-a-kind, a book meant to remind and enlighten us of our story as a people. ☁️


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