Coming-of-Age; Family Drama
Does thirteen count as "of age"?
Hey, why not? "Of age" doesn't necessarily mean when you turn eighteen and get to do fun things like vote; it's really about a moment of transition to some kind of maturity. So yeah, even though a character in a standard coming-of-age novel like, say, Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, is seventeen years old, the truth is that people leave childhood behind at different ages. Thirteen may not be that old, but Bone sure comes to some serious adult realizations by the end of the novel.
Bastard Out of Carolina covers an important period of growth for Bone. Over the course of the novel, she literally grows up, for sure; but more importantly, she gets toward a place where she can actually understand the adult world—even if she hasn't, you know, stopped growing by the end.
In most coming-of-age novels, there's something like a point of no return. Once characters reach this point, they are unable to go back to the childlike understanding of the world they started with. It's sort of like what happens when you figure out (major spoiler alert!) that Santa isn't real. Nothing is quite the same after that.
You might argue about exactly when Bone crosses this point of no return, but she definitely does cross it. More than that, though, we see her heading in what seems like the right direction by the end of the book. Even though she's barely thirteen on the last page of the novel, she's pretty declarative about her future:
I was already who I was going to be. (22.60)
Now, this could go a couple of different ways. Maybe it means that Bone's on track to becoming herself; maybe it means she's just dead inside. We're going more for the first interpretation, since Bone has been so tough and conscientious up until this point, and we're rooting for her. Either way, this gives Bone's journey a kind of finality, as if she has arrived at something, and we don't have to worry anymore.
But hold on a sec, because this story isn't just about Bone. It's also about Anney—who does some serious growing of her own—and the entire Boatwright family. Bone's own dramas are totally tangled up in her family's drama: we're not sure if we can name a single major event in the novel that doesn't involve the extended Boatwright clan, in some form or another.
The issues that the other Boatwrights face—like Raylene's isolation, Ruth's cancer, and Alma's breakdown—also shed light on Bone's own life and help her grow as a person, so we think it's safe to say that this novel a family affair.