August 15, 2013
The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni
The Caged Graves
by Dianne K. Salerni
The year is 1867 and Verity Boone is full of hope when the train pulls into the station at Catawissa, Pennsylvania.
Catawissa may be the town where she was born and lived for several years, but she has no memories of living there. The farm town she sees through the rain is very different from the city of Worchester, Massachusetts where she was raised by her aunt. At 17, Verity is coming home to get married. She and Nate have been writing each other and she’s still surprised that she agreed to marry someone she’s never even met. She can hardly wait to meet him.
But Nate doesn’t meet her at the train station. The only person there to greet her is her father and he doesn’t seem certain he’s happy with this new arrangement.
When Nate comes by the house to meet her the next day, the two go for a walk past the church with its cemetery. Curious at the sight of two graves covered by elaborate iron cages, Verity doesn’t initially notice how nervous Nate has gotten, not until she sees the name on the first grave. Sarah Ann. Why was her mother buried outside the cemetery wall in a caged grave?
Those who know aren’t willing to answer Verity’s questions but she quickly realizes that there are plenty of people who aren’t happy that she’s returned. Some of the women and their daughters are angry that she’s snagged the most eligible young man in town. Others whisper about her mother. Verity is determined to discover the truth.
Salerni has constructed a deliciously complicated novel. It is set in the period immediately following the Civil War. Unlike every other novel I’ve read from this time period, the North vs the South is never mentioned nor is slavery. In this novel, war related tensions revolve around money — who had to go fight and who had enough gold to pay someone to fight for them. And where could a farmer get that kind of money anyway?
There is also a strong romantic element. Verity may be returning to Catawissa to marry Nate but she soon attracts the attention of a young doctor’s apprentice. This doesn’t escape Nate’s notice and only adds to the tension swirling through the community.
While there are hints toward a paranormal element to the story (keeping the dead in the ground, etc.), anyone who picks this book up expected vampires or zombies will be sorely disappointed. This is a historical novel although it does deal with prejudice, fear and superstition.
One warning: Do not give this to your young reader if you are going to then expect her to do chores, etc. This book grabs the reader who is forced to keep turning pages so that they can find out what happens next.