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.(less)
The Ward was a fun read. It was a breath of fresh air in the post-apoc/dystopia genre that...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
3.5 out of 5
The Ward was a fun read. It was a breath of fresh air in the post-apoc/dystopia genre that seems to retread and reuse the same ideas and themes over and over again. Catastrophes hitting the US with dire consequences are not uncommon, but the "Wash Out" event that left New York and Jersey underwater is. This is a fun, fast-paced, fresh and creative; Jordana Frankel has hit the ground running with her debut novel. Full of adventure, intrigue, and even a bit of mythology, Frankel takes her readers to a waterlogged and dangerous futuristic New York. I had a good time reading this from start to finish. For the first time in a long time, The Ward manages to be a post-apocalyptic scenario, that if imperfect, still manages to be both believable enough and entertaining.
Ren is a mostly likeable, but flawed main character. Her story isn't too original for a post-apocalyptic set-up - a withdrawn and angry orphan with a chip on her shoulder and a dependent- but she grows and develops into more than a cliche early on in the book. Ren is a woman in a man's world in her sport of choice, and that just made me like her more. She's unafraid to do what she wants and how she wants, though the sexism she faces almost constantly in racing can be dispiriting as a female reader who enjoys typically-male sports. Either way, Ren carries the novel, for the most part ably, until the narrative works its way around to her romantic entanglements. I had the most issues with the way both plotlines about the boys involved were setup and executed.
Let me just say, I'm so, so tired of love triangles. In any genre they muck up an otherwise good book, but they are at their worse in the young adult field. They're just overwrought and always obnoxious, and often, just lazy writing and plot points. Thankfully, it's not as overt as it could have been here in The Ward, but believe me, my love-triangle senses started tingling as soon as the character of Callum is introduced. It doesn't help that the other love interest, Derek, does nothing worth making him desirable. I couldn't root for either character for two reasons: 1. I didn't care about them individually, and thus, even less so for Ren and 2. I liked Ren best on her own, without needless attractions to mysterious boys.
The Ward may not have had me thinking over deep messages and overarching themes after I finished, but it was pure entertainment for the day it took me to inhale. Frankel sucks you in with the few few chapters and you don't want to leave until it's all over and the race is won. The worldbuilding detailed through the book is minimal and, yes, honestly it could with some strengthening and expansion, but it didn't doesn't detract too much from the overall experience. There are moments of greatness to be found in The Ward - the ambiguity of the antagonists, the creation of the awesome omnimobiles, and the unexpected (and somewhat off the wall) twists and revelations - but sexism, the trite love triangle, and incomplete worldbuilding can cause it to falter.
The Ward isn't going to please all those who try to read it. It's more post-apocalyptic than dystopia, though a few elements of the later pop up throughout the narrative. Some readers won't be able to excuse the unnecessary romance, or the lack of clear worldbuilding, and that's totally okay. It's completely understandable, even. I've picked apart other novels for just those reasons. This isn't a book for everyone. It's a thrill ride, coasting along on the strengths of a complicated main character in an oppressed and dangerous waterworld. (Now try not to think about that awful Kevin Costner movie. You're welcome.) I was undecided on a rating right after finishing, still caught up in the tension of the climax, but after a few days I can see the book's faults more clearly. That doesn't mean I didn't like this book - I liked it very much. It just could have been slightly better. As it is, I had a great time reading it. I would definitely recommend this to a friend - but maybe suggest they borrow it from the library, if not buy it. (less)