Here Lies Linc is a middle grade novel by Delia Ray that is set, more or less, in a cemetery. 12-year-old Lincoln Crenshaw lives with his mother, a "history professor who studies burial customs" in a run-down house that backs up to Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City. Linc's "first best friend" is the groundskeeper at the cemetery. He keeps a journal of interesting epitaphs. As the story begins, Linc is about to start public school for the first time. And while he is dying to fit in with regular kids, a school project pulls Linc right back into the graveyard. He finds himself investigating a legend suggests is cursed. Along the way, however, he also uncovers friendships, family secrets, and some truths about himself.
Each chapter in Here Lies Linc is preceded by a picture of a gravestone, complete with epitaph. I was glad to read, in an author's note at the end of the book, that the epitaphs are all taken from actual graves. (To have made them up, when there is such excellent real material, would have seemed wrong.) Turns out the grave that Linc investigates, The Black Angel, is also real, as is the Oakland Cemetery. While Linc's story is fictional, this factual backdrop lends an authenticity to the book. I grew up walking (and occasionally roller-skating) in the cemetery across the street from my grandparents' house. This, I think, helped the many scenes set in the Oakland Cemetery to resonate with me.
Factual backdrop aside, Here Lies Linc is also pure, kid-friendly escapism. There is a midnight visit to a graveyard crypt. There is a family mystery. There is a cute girl (and a completely PG relationship). Some of the epitaphs are hilarious. There is even a subtle pun in the book's title (apart from the gravestone reference, Linc is also quite a storyteller). Oh, sure, there are also a couple of convenient coincidences (one actually preceded by "It was too good to be true"), and the bad guy is completely over the top. But it's still a fun read.
Linc is a good character, too. He's funny and self-deprecating. Like this:
"I hung my first poster not too long after Dad died, promising myself to live out his dream and conquer a mountain like the ice-capped Elbrus in Russia someday. But who was I fooling? Here I was stuck on the plains of Iowa, hiding in my room like a scared rabbit in its hole. How did I think I could ever scale one of the Seven Summits when I couldn't even keep up with my junior high cross-country team?" (Page 41)
After a conflict, he runs away and hides in his bed, "waiting for the worst attacks of anger and embarrassment to pass." Despite the lies that he tells, Linc also has a conscience. He grows up a reasonable, but not overdone, amount over the course of the book. The other characters aren't as fully developed as Linc, of course, but they aren't one-note characters, either. Linc's mother, Lottie, while a bit of an eccentric, grows a bit, too. And the aforementioned cute girl, Delaney, is a delight.
Here Lies Linc is a middle grade novel with a fully realized, unique setting. It's also a book that will keep kids turning pages, eager to watch Linc solve the various mysteries in his life. Recommended for middle grade readers and up, boys or girls.
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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