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.
I love historical fiction but with all of the other genres I review, don’t have time to read much of it anymore. When I saw the synopsis for The Caged Graves in the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt catalogue I was completely captivated by it and immediately requested it, hoping it would not only be great but the YA genre would make it of interest to everyone who reads the blog. After reading it, I can only say that YA or not, perfect fit or not, I would have had to review this for you – this was an absolutely gorgeous, captivating story.
It’s 1867, and Verity has returned to the small rural town she was born in to fulfill a childhood promise to marry Nathaniel McLure. She was sent away from home by her father when she was two, so Nate is a stranger for all intents and purposes, except for the letters they’ve been exchanging. They’ve been sweet, romantic letters and Verity has developed a regard for Nate so she’s disappointed when they meet and he’s nothing like that. During one of their stilted conversations and walks, Verity comes across two graves near a church. They’re outside the church’s hallowed ground and have bizarre iron cages built around them. A closer look reveals them to be Verity’s mother and her aunt, who died within days of each other right before Verity was sent away.
No one wants to talk about the caged graves, including her own father. The more Verity searches for answers, the more ugly rumors she hears, from curses to grave-robbers, hidden treasure to witchcraft. When even her father won’t tell her the truth, Verity takes drastic steps to uncover why her mother and aunt were ostracized from the community after their deaths, why their names are whispered with venom and why even those who knew and loved them want to continue the cover-up.
This is one of those stories with a large cast of characters, nearly any of whom could have something to do with what happened fifteen years ago to Verity’s mother and aunt. It was a deliciously rural small town of that era, with all of its class snobbery and racism in place. The area had been a hotspot during the war and after being originally settled with British, Sioux and American, became the local melting pot. One family that had a generous line of Sioux blood was extremely prolific, very poor and discriminated against in the community. It was made known to Verity that most people in town thought Nate was marrying her to gain a large portion of her father’s extensive land through her dowry, even though his family was well-off. I loved having so many characters weaving in and out of the story both helping and hurting Verity’s search – there were suspects and motives everywhere.
Verity was a wonderful character, with flaws that I thought were consistent for a girl of her age in her time. She’d come from a sheltered, fairly affluent situation, expecting a happy reunion with her father and a romantic marriage and found a dusty, spare home, a father who doesn’t know what to do with her and a young man who isn’t what she’d hoped for. Her upbringing meant she was headstrong, outspoken, unapologetic and secure enough to think she could choose her own destiny, which wasn’t always the case with women in the 1800s. I loved her devotion to the mother she’d never known and the lengths she was willing to go to for her, to have her name restored and her grave placed on hallowed ground. I think it was realistic that a young girl like Verity would have doubts about her feelings for Nate, but I didn’t like the sort-of love interest triangle that developed between Nate, Verity and a young doctor’s assistant. I think it was taken a little bit too far, even if it was romantically dramatic.
I don’t want to say a lot about Nate or Hadley, the doctor’s assistant, because they’re both vying for Verity’s hand and she does choose one – the right one, in my opinion. They both brought different things to Verity in a relationship and in different places I went back and forth between them before settling on the one that I knew would have her heart.
The Caged Graves was more than just a good book I picked up. I was completely captivated by the occasionally dark story, by Salerni’s gorgeous writing and the search for the truth behind the burials of Verity’s mother and aunt. I loved that even though there was one true answer in the book there were a few other plausible answers too. The resolution of the mystery was well done and the romantic ending was satisfyingly sweet and believable. I can’t wait to see what Salerni does next.
My Rating: A