The Bone Wars Summary
by Kathryn Lasky

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The Bone Wars Summary

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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The Bone Wars examines what happens to people caught up in surging tides of rapid change, as happened in the western United States in the 1870s. It is an exciting story with many varied but realistic characters, each trying to realize a dream, even though that dream is sometimes nothing more than trying to hold on to what one has in the face of great odds. It features many characters from many different backgrounds, making each comprehensible to the reader with colorful descriptions and revealing vignettes of their lives—from English gentry to Native Americans. Some, like Chief Crazy Horse or Colonel George Custer, are actual figures from history. Others are fictional, but closely based on real people of the time: fossil-hunters Cunningham and Babcock are much like scientific rivals Cope and Marsh, competitors in the real-life "Bone Wars," as reported by the newspapers of their day. The two principal characters in the novel, Thad Longsworth and Julian DeMott, are totally fictional yet still quite believable young people experiencing a remarkable period of history when new frontiers of thought as well as new frontiers of land were being opened up.

The novel explores issues that began with the discovery of the New World and are still with us today, through the actions of its many characters. The opening of the American West was a boon for many, from prospectors for minerals to prospectors for science, even for those, like Calamity Jane, who sought simply to escape the confining customs of their own civilization. Yet the opening of the West also meant the end of the Native American's way of life. Lasky wants to convey the idea that progress has its costs, and that those costs should be weighed before certain intangible but nevertheless important aspects of a culture, like wisdom, diversity, and trust, are lost forever. The author demonstrates this principle for us in the actions of her two main characters, who risk everything in order to bring their discovery to the whole world rather than just a chosen few.