Set in Catawissa, Pennsylvania during the post Civil War era, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni is an intense historical fiction young adult read. With a spitfire main character, dark secrets, and a slow to develop romance, The Caged Graves hearkens back to the historical fiction of my childhood, similar in feel to The Witch Of Blackbird Pond, if not in eras. Salerni’s latest is utterly engrossing and exactly what I want to read in historical book. Mainly, it has a strong plot and fantastic characterization to recommend it. The book opens with murder and a man on the run during the Revolutionary War. This event doesn’t make sense at first, but will for the larger context of the story.
When she was a very young girl, Verity’s mother died and she was sent to Worcestor to be raised by family friends. At seventeen, Verity returns home to her father, Ransloe Boone. She also returns to Nate McClure, her intended. She’s never met him, but they have a courtship over letters and eventually get engaged. Unfortunately, Verity and her dad do not get a heartfelt reunion. Further, Nate isn’t exactly the Don Juan that she had expected and they do not have the easy conversation in person that they do in their letters. Even worse, almost every young lady in town has set her cap for Nate, as he owns a lot of land. He’s also not half bad looking. Another young man ends up catching Verity’s attention and she is torn. To make matters even worse, Verity discovers there is a cage over her mother’s grave, supposedly to deter grave robbers, yet some in town think there’s another reason for the case. Coming to Catawissa might not have been Verity’s best decision. Danger is in the air.
Dianne K. Salerni really knows how to write characters that I like. I loved her book We Hear The Dead and I just LOVE The Caged Graves. As I wrote above, Verity is a total spitfire. When the ladies of Catawissa are rude and mean to her, she does not hang her head in submission. Instead, Verity gives it right back but under the guise of politeness. While this could potentially be grating, I actually wanted to high five Verity for her comebacks. She comes across as an independent and headstrong young lady, which is something I do admire in characters. I also thought she handled her romantic liaisons quite well.
There are two guys who vie for Verity’s heart. One is Nate McClure, the boy she is engaged to. The other is Dr. Hadley Jones, another newcomer whom Verity seems to easily slip into conversation with. Usually with a love triangle, there’s a clear winner going in. Sure, the other guy might give winner guy a run for his money, but usually you can guess who will win. Not so in the case of The Caged Graves. Instead of deciding on one boy, Verity admits to conflicting feelings for each. Rather than lead either one on, she takes some time to really figure out who she would like to be with. Yet, for a lot of the book I did not exactly feel a lot of chemistry between Verity and her love interests. Also, if you are a fan of kissing scenes you won’t be disappointed.
Frankly, one of the best aspects of The Caged Graves is Salerni’s writing style. She manages to provide a historical sort of feel while remaining accessible. Further, her writing is infused with a sinister and gothic mood that one can feel as they read The Caged Graves. There are some dark bits and it definitely feels as though we are experiencing the suspense and the mystery along with Verity. It did not take me long to pick up on the context clues and figure out who the shady villain was. I think the fact that it does take Verity longer adds to the anticipation and makes the climax that much more intense.
If you miss the historical fiction books of your childhood, be sure to pick up The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni. It has a compelling, old-school feel. With sassy characters, mysterious local legends, and a well-developed romance, I would absolutely recommend this book to fans of A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, The Witch Of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare or Ann Rinaldi’s books. This book is perfect for a rainy day. It totally transported me with a very real sense of time and place within it’s writing.
Disclosure: Received for review via Amazon Vine
Other reviews of The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni:
I can’t find any on google as of 4/21/13. If you review this, drop your review link in my comments and I will add it up here.
Books by Dianne K. Salerni:
We Hear The Dead