‘Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones’ Review: The Loss of the American Dream

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones is a beautifully complex fantasy novel filled with the souls of generations lost to the American landscape of broken dreams. Ghosts haunt every corner of this wasteland town, clinging to the surfaces and the people. This is the decline of small town life on display, showing us what happens when people dream big and never get a chance to leave the shackles of home. The writing is visceral, filled with the grotesque decay of a forgotten town and the shouting voices of the dead who demand to be heard. Every character is haunted by the past, filled with regrets or longing or a sadness for a life just out of reach. 

The town smothers all who live amidst its decrepit streets, yet the townsfolk cling to their ghosts as though they could never survive outside of their sphere of influence. It’s a testament to the power of the past to hold us down, to fill us with doubts about the future. Stir in the hatred of neighbors who should be kind and the fear of past generations who wished for more, and you have a dark landscape to grow up in.

Possession is a reality of life and we see so much raw emotion funneled into these kids who should be experiencing the joys of life but are instead filled with the doubts of those long gone. Their dreams are replaced by the whims of the dead, giving them abilities they never asked for. There’s a fear built into everyone who clings to this town. It’s falling apart at the seams, the failure evident in every corner, yet they hold on to a factory that’s turning them away and an economy that is quickly becoming nonexistent. The school hallways are moldy and overgrown, the downtown area decrepit and long abandoned. And still they stay. This is small town America, long forgotten by large cities and a world that no longer supports their way of life. We’re seeing that way of life decay page by page and it’s a tragedy for all involved. It’s tragic to see people lose their homes and tragic to see people terrified of leaving this prison for something better.

This is a fantasy world gone bad. The streets are so full of ghosts that engines get clogged and mirrors are crowded. Everyone has someone they’re staying behind for, whether it be a lost brother, mother, or friend who never made it out alive. The dead even flock to the factory, intent on maintaining their way of life. Meanwhile, the primary employer in town has found a terrifying way to cut labor costs, taking us firmly into dystopia territory. 

In the end, Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones is a brilliant exposé on the failure of the American Dream and its destruction of those caught in the crosshairs. The writing transfixes at every turn, leaving you in a daze, wondering how many ghosts each of us carries around day in and day out.

NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones

By Micah Dean Hicks
John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


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