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The Caged Graves: Dianne K. Salerni

Book: The Caged Graves
Author: Dianne K. Salerni (@DianneSalerni)
Pages: 336
Age Range: 12 and up

The Caged Graves is a historical novel set mainly in 1867 in the small town of Catawissa, Pennsylvania. It features several mysteries, all set against a backdrop of a small town recovering from the Civil War. 

17-year-old Verity Boone is moving back to Catawissa after being raised by her aunt in Worcester, Massachusetts (the big city, compared to Catawissa). Verity is returning to marry Nate, to whom she has become engaged via mail, though they've never met (well, not since Verity was 2 years old). She is also reacquainting herself with the father she barely knows. Verity is shocked to discover, however, that her mother and aunt are buried outside the local churchyard, in graves surrounded by metal cages. Verity's quest to understand the reason for this treatment of the graves stirs up secrets that the people around her wish would stay buried. And Verity soon finds her life and her engagement both in jeopardy. 

The historical details are quite tightly woven, without ever feeling like too much. I was especially interested to learn about the practice of people paying substitutes to go to war for them during the Civil War.

The tone of The Caged Graves is dark and suspenseful. The reader constantly feels danger looming, and sees secrets peering out of thickets. 

As for the plot, well, I was pretty sure of the identify of the primary "bad guy" long before Verity figured it out (in fact, long before Verity even suspected that there was anything amiss at all). But I still read the last third of the book with breathless interest, concerned for Verity's fate. And I was unsure for quite a while regarding how her romantic dilemma would turn out. 

The Caged Graves is nuanced historical fiction, with a Gothic-tinged murder mystery for added suspense. The characters are strong (particularly Verity, but I also liked Nate, and Verity's father's housekeeper). Salerni doesn't shrink from confronting racial (and other) differences and discriminations, but keeps a relatively soft touch, maintaining focus on plot and character. Fans of historical novels (particularly those set in the Civil War era), as well as fans of dark, twisty mysteries, will not want to miss this one. Recommended!

Publisher: Clarion Books (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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