Review: The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni

Sunday, June 16, 2013
Title: The Caged Graves
Author: Dianne K. Salerni
Genre: historical fiction, young adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Published: May 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

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.

Inspired by real-life caged-in graves found across the country, Dianne K. Salerni weaves a tale of lust, desperation, and hidden motives set during the 1860's Pennsylvania. The Caged Graves is an evocative and atmospheric young adult historical fiction read, but it's also one that sadly fails to execute the plot with complete satisfaction for the audience. The suspense and mystery that is built up over the course of the novel's three hundred thirty pages is enveloping and interesting, but the reveal and final twist fail to live up to the standard set by the rest of the book.

Verity Boone is the main character for The Caged Graves, and she is a good one. One of the strongest aspects of the novel is this main character. She's likeable, smart, fallible, and complicated. Away from home for the fifteen years since her mother died, Verity comes home to an engagement, an unknown place, and her mother and aunt's caged graves. Unsatisfied with the answers the town offers, kept apart from their secrets and history, Verity begins to dig into what happened to Sarah and Asenath's deaths. Amid whispers of witchcraft and unnatural happenings, Verity begins to understand the horrible truth that lead up to the loss of two young mothers so long ago. 

The romance(s) is where The Caged Graves really began to falter from me. Before the introduction of a second love interest and an obvious (and very unnecessary love triangle), this had been coasting along; an engrossing and dense read based on Revolutionary lore. However, once the two boys Hadley and Nate emerge as rivals for Verity's affections, it became much less fun to read. Far too much time and too many pages are devoted to Verity trying to decide between the two love interests. The book is far more original when concerned with unraveling the caged graves mystery and far too reminiscent of so many other YA novels when it comes to the tepid romances. Uneven courtship and confusion aside, Nate is a more rounded character than his counterpart, but there is still not a lot to recommend either.

A fictional story inspired from minor historical facts, Salerni's debut has some originality, a three-dimensional lead character, and some suspense to recommend it. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed with how the author chose to conclude her story. The mystery that had been so carefully laid out ended up being rather ordinary (and even slightly laughable) when all is said and done. The Caged Graves moves along nicely, and is well plotted and paced but I felt very ambivalent upon finishing it. I wouldn't go so far to not recommend it to a friend, but I would suggest that they would borrow from a library rather than buy it outright.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I felt very 'meh' about this one too. I think my major source of disappointment (besides that boring love-triangle) was the fact that I was expecting a slight paranormal twist to it when it was anything but. Will definitely have to check out other works from this author though... great review!


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