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Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal 2019

Well researched, convincing and written with respect, this is a book that takes the reader on a memorable journey and stays in the mind for a long time.

Shortlisted for the 

Costa Book Award 2019

A powerful, complex and fascinating coming-of-age novel.

Sunday Times Children's Book of the Week

Rich in the customs of the Bontok culture, with its paddy fields, sacrifices to ancestral spirits, and hunting and fighting with spears and axes, this fully imagines a way of life for which the records are sketchy. It also shows us a moment of change, as two worlds meet, and that it takes more than a ceremony to make a man.

Nicolette Jones



A visceral coming-of-age novel examining the impacts of imperialism.

Publishers Weekly

Steeped in Filipino tradition, this richly historic coming-of-age novel shows readers a rare view of the Philippines on the brink of American colonization.

The Guardian Books of the Month

Gourlay’s evocative writing grips from the outset.

Imogen Russell Williams

NBC News 13 Best Asian American Children's and Young Adult  Books 2019

 Thoughtful and touching examination of the impact of colonization on cultures and people through the eyes of a child.

Lakshmi Gandhi

Washington Post Best Children's Books for 2019

A good coming-of-age story transcends worlds and timelines, and such is the case for Bone Talk.

Erin Entrada Kelly

Opens our minds to a little known corner of history through Samkad's authentic, transfixing voice.

Very special.

Alex O'Connell

The Times Books of the Year

The Observer

A mesmerising world of soulful ritual and community, rendering the impact of the American invasion all the more devastating.

Fiona Noble

USBBY Outstanding International Book 2019

The best of children's literature from other countries.

United States Board on Books for Young People 

White Ravens Book 2019

This gripping novel imagines what living in a country on the brink  of colonisation might have been like. Told from the point of view of a courageous indigenous boy, the book whisks readers away into a fascinating, unfamiliar world.

International Youth Library

Bone Talk Synopsis

It is 1899 and Samkad thinks he knows everything he needs to know about the world. He knows where home is. He knows who his friends and his enemies are. And he knows that he wants to become a man, to have his own shield, spear and axe and to take his place with the warriors of his village. But everything changes when a new boy arrives in the village who brings news of strangers called ‘Americans’, who are bringing war and death to his home . . .

Amazing cover illustration by Kerby Rosanes




‘Amnesty International endorses Bone Talk because it upholds many human rights, including our rights to life, to equality, to have a religion, to enjoy our own culture. It also shows us what can happen when these are taken away from us.’

This story is set in one of my favourite places in the whole world, against some forgotten history that happened not that long ago. I wanted to imagine what it was like to meet your invader for the very first time – before he changed you forever.


Photo: Richard Gourlay

The Cordilleras

Bone Talk is set in the magnificent highlands of the Philippines – a region called the Cordilleras, populated by impressive folk who carved rice fields out of vertiginous mountains and, for three hundred years, repulsed invasions by both Filipino lowlanders and colonizers from Spain. 

Photo: Candy Gourlay

Philippine Colonial Timeline

Before 1521

The Philippines is a series of tiny independent island communities and kingdoms, trading with China, Japan and neighbouring islands in Southeast Asia. The thousands of islands are inhabited by diverse peoples who speak many languages and practice many faiths.

1521 to 1898

The explorer Ferdinand Magellan claims the Philippines for Spain in 1521 and for three hundred years the islands are ruled by the Spanish Empire from Mexico. It becomes the only Catholic country in Asia. In the late 1890s, Filipino revolutionaries successfully challenge Spanish rule.

1899 to 1903

Spain loses the Spanish American war and relinquishes Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the US. The US invades the Philippines and the revolutionaries find themselves fighting a new, more powerful adversary. The Philippine American War continues from 1899 to 1902 the United States declares its end as it annexes the Philippines as "unincorporated territory". Filipino revolutionaries continue to fight American forces until 1904. 


In 1904, the United States holds a World Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. Native Americans, African tribesmen, Japanese aborigines are also exhibited as a contrast to the high technology on display. Of the people on exhibit, the star attraction was the Philippine Reservation displaying nine tribes from the Philippines. Drawing biggest crowds were the headhunting 

people of the Cordilleras.


After a harrowing Second World War which leaves Manila one of the cities most devastated by the bombing, the United States grants full independence to the Philippines. On the Fourth of July, Manuel Roxas becomes the first president of the Republic of the Philippines. 



Carnegie Medal Citation. Powerful, often poetic writing immerses the reader in an authentic sense of a different time and culture and wonderfully evokes the physicality of a very different place. At the same time very relatable characters and universal themes of coming of age and fear of the different make this a gripping historical adventure. Well researched, convincing and written with respect, this is a book that takes the reader on a memorable journey and stays in the mind for a long time.

Costa Book Award Citation. A powerful, complex and fascinating coming-of-age novel.

Terry Hong, Shelf Awareness/Smithsonian Book Dragon. A Filipino boy on the verge of manhood in 1899 must face mortal enemies, colonial brutality and his own headstrong, immature self to help save his remote village from annihilation.

Marion Rose, Historical Novel Society. Wonderful and unusual ... Beautifully crafted, this story draws on different spheres – political, social, spiritual and emotional – in the way of a true classic. A truly brilliant read for boys and girls of 10+.

Gordon Askew, Magic Fiction. This is not only a gripping read, but a hugely important book too. Read

Clare Zinkin, The Independent. One of the standout titles of the year.


Jill Murphy, The Bookbag. A gripping adventure story and a fascinating piece of historical fiction but you never, ever forget that it's the story of Samkad, a boy you believe could be your friend. Highly recommended. Read the whole review

Fiona Noble, The Bookseller "Ones to Watch". A soulful coming-of-age story rich in Filipino myth and tradition, combined with a thrilling adventure of headhunters and invaders, asking powerful questions about community, colonialism and what it means to be a man. 

Ferelith Hordon, Books for Keeps. Gourlay is an accomplished novelist who looks to explore different challenges in every book, all springing from her own background. Here she boldly takes her readers into a very different world, a past that is both specific yet universal. This is a book to recommend – accessible, exciting and challenging. Read the whole review


Sita Brahmachari, author of Artichoke Hearts, winner of the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize. Utterly engrossing. This sumptuously realised, age-old story of colonisation transports in time, culture, landscape and history. It will lodge deep in the bone long after these pages have been turned.


Elizabeth Laird, author of The Garbage King. A wonderful novel ... will stay with me for a long time.


Catherine Johnson, author of Sawbones. I loved Bone Talk. A really thoughtful and wonderful piece of storytelling.'


Teen Librarian. I was enthralled by Bone Talk. Read the interview.


Emily Drabble, Booktrust. An exciting, fascinating and beautifully written book. Read the review.


Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books. I loved this book in so many ways. It's diverse, very challenging and really made me think. I feel as if I have lived every moment of the story ... This is a great young-adult read that strikes away from the norm. It certainly shook me from my reading perch as it was enjoyable on so many levels. Read the review

Sarah Broadley, My Book Corner. Candy Gourlay's prose takes the reader by the hand beckoning them on Samkad's journey. They will feel every stone under their feet, every whisper from the trees and every laughter and tear shed as they delve deeper and deeper into the book. Only once the last page has been read will they come up for air, wondering how they will ever read anything quite like it again. Read the review

Ann Giles, Bookwitch. ... a real must-read. While I really, really liked Candy’s first two novels, this rather surpasses them. There is truth in the saying that you should write about what you know, about your place, your country, your people. Read the review

Edward, National Geographic Kids Featured Book. Exciting and action-packed, it's well written and difficult to put down. My fave character is Kinyo (Samkad's brother) because he bravely stands up against his enemies and can speak two languages.

Beth Goodyear, The Scotsman ‘Great Reads to Entertain and Inspire Developing Minds’. Candy Gourlay is a master storyteller, capable of transporting her readers competely into her world … Bone Talk is a richly wrought novel that feels cinematic in scope. The reader is transported to a different time and place and feels completely engulfed by the sights, sounds and smells of this lost wilderness.

Kate Ashton, Suffolk Libraries. I really enjoyed this book. The tale is gripping and the theme is universal: what will you do when change and responsibility is thrust upon you? Candy Gourlay’s evocative descriptions of the landscape and atmosphere make you feel as if you are there, walking the paths behind Samkad and Luki.

Jayne Gould, Armadillo. Candy Gourlay wanted to write a story set in her homeland, the story she would have liked to have been able to read as a child, reflecting its history and culture. She has certainly achieved her aim, creating this tour de force, a compelling, absorbing tale, which seeks to open minds, ask important questions and bring the diversity of the world to readers - all things books should do.

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