Published by Clarion Books on May 14, 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
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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.
One of my friends recommended The Caged Graves to me after loving it so much. I’ll be honest, I was worried it would not be my thing. At the same time, though, I was very intrigued by the story, which was inspired by the author’s discovery of a pair of caged graves in Catawissa, Pennsylvania. Dianne K. Salerni could not find the answer to why these graves were caged, so she wrote the story she imagined might have happened. I decided to give this book a try, and I ended up really loving it. The Caged Graves did not hit me like a ton of bricks in the beginning. It was only AFTER I finished, and realized that I was thinking about it days later, that I discovered how much I enjoyed it.
I really love Gothic literature that incorporates mystery, history, and romance. The Caged Graves combines all of these things with a little suspense and hints of the paranormal. Ever since I read The Crucible by Arthur Miller I’ve been very intrigued by the history of witches that were heard of in the Northeastern states. This is a pretty substantial theme in The Caged Graves, which gave me yet another reason to pick it up. I quickly began to discover all these elements I so love reading about, and grew more and more excited with each page turn.
Verity is not your typical 19th Century girl, who sits by submissively as men plan out her life and tells her what to do. She’s got this modernized personality that was so refreshing to read about. She does not take no for an answer, she does not sit idly by and wonder, and she is far above the cattiness that frequently surfaces among southern belles in literature that covers this time period. She is stubborn and brave, and will not hesitate to put her nose in things others wish she would leave well enough alone. She’s not always prim and proper, and I love that about her. I’m pretty sure I’d be a lot like her if I lived in 19th Century America.
Nate, Verity’s husband-to-be, is your typical Southern gentleman. He’s sweet and chivalrous, and always seems to say the right things. That’s why I was not especially fond of him at first, though. I felt like he said everything he said because he felt it was the right thing to say, not necessarily because he wanted to say it. He did grow on me because I realized that that was how he was brought up. And he’s so NOT the smooth talking romantic. I laughed as he tripped over himself. I much preferred Hadley, the blunt doctor who had no problems going outside the societal norms, much like Verity. His concern and friendship towards Hadley in a town where everyone gave her odd glances and spoke to each other in hushed tones when she was around, was very endearing. As much as this situation sounds like a love triangle, it was a very realistic one. So often, today’s love triangles are self-inflicted either because the heroine can’t choose who she likes better, one of the heroes can’t accept that the heroine is taken, or vice versa. This love triangle is understandable, though, as Verity is torn between who she should like (because her dad wants her to) and who she wants to like.
I liked quite a few of the secondary characters as well, including Verity’s father who has no idea how to raise a teenage girl but is trying really hard to, as well as Beulah, Verity’s crotchety housemaid. Each character was very well written and stood apart from the rest. There’s a couple sweet moments where the idea of segregation dissolves and African Americans and whites come together to help and look out for one another. I was so happy to see this, especially during a time where racism was rampant.
The romance is very sweet and tender, yet understated. It was certainly not the entirety of the plot. I loved that it played a side role to Verity’s quest for learning the truth about her mother’s past. I liked that this book was not riddle with historical facts. There was just enough to allow me a sense of the time, but not so much that I felt bogged down by a history lesson. I really, really loved this story and would recommend it to anyone looking for something outside the normal equation of young adult literature. The Caged Graves reads like adult fiction but is centered around young people, making it a book that transcends age groups and can be enjoyed by all.