Review: The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni
The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni.
To be published: May 14, 2013.
Published by: Clarion Books.
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Clarion!
17-year-old Verity Boone expects a warm homecoming when she returns to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, in 1867, pledged to marry a man she has never met. Instead, she finds a father she barely knows and a future husband with whom she apparently has nothing in common. One truly horrifying surprise awaits her: the graves of her mother and aunt are enclosed in iron cages outside the local cemetery. Nobody in town will explain why, but Verity hears rumors of buried treasure and witchcraft. Perhaps the cages were built to keep grave robbers out . . . or to keep the women in. Determined to understand, Verity finds herself in a life-and-death struggle with people she trusted.
Inspired by a pair of real caged graves in present-day Catawissa, this historical YA novel weaves mystery, romance, and action into a suspenseful drama with human greed and passion at its core.
Wow. This was a unique and enthralling novel if I've ever read one. There is so much to say about this novel that I can't possibly fit it all into this review, or even, necessarily, into words. I was actually taken aback by how much I truly enjoyed it.
One of the most captivating aspects of THE CAGED GRAVES is the atmosphere. There is something very unsettling about the graves from the first mention of them and Verity's mother, and this unsettling feeling is only amplified by the various reactions by everyone whenever they are brought up. This was not a fast-paced, plot driven novel, though it absolutely had its exciting scenes, but I really enjoyed how that allowed the setting and the atmosphere to take over, as well as putting character relationships center stage.
I absolutely loved the way the relationships overall were dealt with, but I want to touch specifically on a few. First, Verity almost expects her meeting with Nate, her betrothed, to bring love at first sight, as their only contact since Verity had moved away from Catawissa as a child was in the last year through romantic and endearing letters. It was interesting seeing a trope so commonly complained about in YA like "insta-love" turned right on its head, with the main character expecting it and it not turning out that way at all. The depth of the relationship that develops between them is genuine in its uncertainty and its rockiness, which made them a lovable couple even when they fought.
Another well-hated trope, the love triangle, is used exactly as it should be in this novel. When Verity feels distanced from Nate, she finds herself falling for Jones, an apprentice to the local doctor and completely unforgiving in his feelings for Verity, an engaged woman. The reason this was done so well is in the way Verity struggles not only to determine who she has true feelings for and who she simply enjoys flirting with, but also with the entire concept of love, which, at 17, is possibly the most realistic and honest way she could feel. Of all the relationships, though, Verity's awkward one with her father was probably the most touching. He has to adjust to having a teenage daughter thrust into his life after not having lived with her since she was a toddler. He clearly has no idea what to do with her, nor she with him, but the way they grow on and begin to understand each other is really heart-warming in its small but significant moments.
While the plot of the novel was not, as I mentioned above, fast-moving, because of the significant focus on characters and atmosphere, it was certainly not boring or underdeveloped. The mystery surrounding the graves, Verity's mother, and the circumstances of her death, along with the ongoing strange occurrences in Catawissa make for an extremely intriguing plot with a surprising conclusion (in more ways than one)!
I thought this was a really wonderful novel, in all., where each element mixed with the others perfectly to create a story I could not mentally pull myself away from.