“In Catawissa, sometimes the dead don’t stay where you put them.”
The year is 1867, and Verity Boone is returning to her birthplace, Catawissa, Pennsylvania. She knows that this small farm town will be a big change from Worcester, Massachusetts, where she’s spent most of her seventeen years, and she's ready to face the challenge. She looks forward to a joyful reunion with her father and, of course, to meeting Nate McClure, her future husband, face-to-face for the first time.
But her homecoming isn't all she expected. Verity's father is awkward and distant, and there's no role for her in his household. Even Nate disappoints—their strained conversations are very unlike the easy exchange of letters that convinced Verity to accept his proposal.
And a horrifying surprise awaits her. The graves of her mother and aunt are enclosed in iron cages just outside the local cemetery's walls, and Verity is determined to find out why. She hears rumors of grave robbers, hidden treasure, even witchcraft. Were the cages built to keep others out—or the dead in? Verity's search for the truth exposes the town’s closely guarded secrets, sheds light on some disturbing family history, and leads her into mortal danger.
This was a great young adult tale with a historical mystery twist on the popular fish-out-of-water theme, and it has a nice, subtle romance, which you don’t find too often in YA. Verity Boone leaves the bustle of city life in Worcester, Massachusetts to return to the rural town where she was born in Pennsylvania, where her father still lives, where a marriage arranged through correspondence awaits her, where there's a mystery surrounding her mother's tragic death, and where whispers of witchcraft, grave diggers, and buried treasure abound.
It takes place in 1867, when families are still trying to recover from the war that ravaged the country and left virtually no home untouched, and when Verity arrives in Catawissa she feels very much like the outsider. She is disappointed to find her father quiet and disinterested, and her fiancée, Nathaniel, awkward and brusque—nothing like the young man she’d fallen in love with through his letters. In fact, the young doctor’s apprentice seems much more interested in her arrival. Then she is shocked to discover that her mother, who died when Verity was two, is buried outside of the church graveyard, and with an iron cage completely surrounding her grave. And she is not alone. Her sister-in-law is buried next to her in the same fashion.
Dissatisfied with the variety of reasons members of the community give her for the caged graves, ranging from the ridiculous to the disturbing to the unacceptable, Verity determines to uncover the truth. I couldn’t put the book down as she set about sorting fact from fiction regarding the circumstances of her mother’s and aunt’s deaths, the intentions of her fiancée, the prejudices and grudges harbored in a small community, and a town’s obsession with rumors of buried Revolutionary War gold. Nothing is as she originally perceived when she first came to town—not her father, or her fiancée, or even herself.
I really enjoyed this story and I’d like to see more like it in YA. My only real quibble and the reason for the bump down is that I thought the climax was a bit over the top, especially when compared to the simmering, mysterious build-up, and I had been hoping for something less melodramatic and a bit spookier. The author was inspired by two real caged graves she discovered in a rural cemetery; when an effort to learn the story behind them led nowhere, she decided to create her own tale around them. She did a great job! With intriguing characters, a vivid historical setting, a mystical ambiance, and a page-turning plot, The Caged Graves has all of the elements that add up to a great read in my book, and I’ll be looking for future books from Dianne Salerni.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5
**Please Note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher through the Amazon Vine program. These are my honest and unbiased opinions, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.