“Art evokes emotion, and sometimes the best way to reset is to let it wash over you.”
Many times, true crime books don't hit so close to home for us. They're something that we pick up because of the attention the crimes have drawn or maybe because we love the analytical side of a case. When I first saw We Carry Their Bones I thought it looked interesting, and then my mom told me what it was about - a juvenile reform school located in Marianna, Florida. I grew up less than hour and a half from Marianna and one of my aunts even lived there for a while. But I don't remember anything about this reform school (granted I did have a concussion that wiped a lot of my memories). So I was pretty intrigued in learning more about this reform school.
Before we get into the review, let's take a quick look at the summary for We Carry Their Bones. The Arthur G. Dozier Boys School, known by many names throughout its history, was shut down in 2011 due to reports of cruelty, abuse, and deaths. Children as young as six were sent to the reform school for crimes including truancy or trespassing. Many boys sent there were Black and suffered abuse, and some even death, while at the school.
Following the school's closure, a forensic anthropologist, Erin Kimmerle, began trying to locate the school's graveyard. This project was to determine where the graveyard was located, how many bodies were buried there, and who was buried there. Records showed 31 boys had been buried in unmarked graves, but the real number was found to be twice that. Throughout this project, Kimmerle's work was threatened by residents and local law enforcement. What does Kimmerle find in her time at the Dozier Boys School? More than could be imagined.
First thing I'll say is that even though I have a background in clinical mental health counseling, and my training in that has exposed me to stories about child abuse that I wish weren't true, this book still shattered my heart. Not only did so many boys, both who survived and those who died, experience horrible abuse, but the caretakers (if you can call them that) at the school didn't even care enough to mark their burial spots or keep accurate records. Even the records of some of the boys who died that could actually be found were ridiculous.
I will not go into detail of the abuse that some of the survivors, who call themselves White House Boys (because beatings were handed out in a white house on the property), have shared in the book as it is too much to read if you are not prepared. I will, however, share how I felt listening to these stories. I was appalled. Sometimes you can zone out while listening to an audiobook, but the moment that Kimmerle started sharing details from some of the abuse stories, I was snapped right back into the moment. I cannot understand how people can abuse children, let alone to the extent of the boys who attended Dozier.
Now, on to a bit lighter of a subject - the anthropological aspect of this book. I love the show Bones, so I found this aspect of the book just as intriguing. Kimmerle shares about her experience on this project, both interacting with local residents and with the actual excavation. I learned about the methods used to excavate grave sites, as well as how anthropologists can tell if the ground has been disturbed just by digging up a shallow patch of land! Putting all of these aspects together really made We Carry Their Bones an interesting read.
Overall, I gave We Carry Their Bones four stars. While it's a bit excruciating to hear about the abuse these children faced at Dozier, the peace that Kimmerle and her team have helped the families of many boys find is comforting. I recommend this book if you're into true crime or anthropology. If you’d like to see what I’m reading now, check out my Goodreads or follow us on Instagram and Facebook! If you’re excited to see what other topics we’ll be covering in the coming months, make sure to subscribe. Thanks for reading with me!