cover image A Bone from a Dry Sea

A Bone from a Dry Sea

Peter Dickinson. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $16 (199pp) ISBN 978-0-385-30821-2

In his latest novel, Dickinson tells of two girls whose lives are linked, though they are born more than two million years apart. Along with its dual heroines, this tale has two objectives: one is to entertain, and the other is to elaborate on a controversial theory of evolution. The story's present-day protagonist is Vinny, who is spending the summer on a dig in Africa with her taphonomist father. In the same part of the world but deep in ``our furthest possible past, which is like looking at a group of people far off across a flat, hot plain'' lives Li, a hominid who lives with the rest of her tribe by the shores of a vast sea. The inquisitive Li's knack for inventing new and better ways to do things--along with her rapport with a school of dolphins--makes her the unwilling prize in a struggle between two dominant males. Likewise, in her own time, Vinny becomes the center of a dispute between her father and the dig's arrogant leader. Hefty doses of scientific speculation, a plot rife in coincidence, a school of helpful dolphins, and a decidedly feminist slant are the sort of ingredients that, in less capable hands, could result in a New Age muddle. Here, however, the narrative is gripping, and Dickinson's shrewd observation of the interaction between males and females--in both the present and the past--is easily as compelling as his exploration of the intriguing sea-ape theory. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)