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The Gravekeepers


by Elizabeth Byrne


THE GRAVE KEEPERS follows two sisters, Laurel and Athena Windham, and their attempts to break out of their strict household and its ideologies. The Windhams are the town grave keepers; people who are in charge of taking care of graveyards in an increasingly death-oriented society. In this alternate version of the world, people spend lots on time inside of their own graves; contemplating life, chilling, or just using it as an escape. Though the Windham’s control one of their towns most important sites, they are notorious recluses.

After another sister, Lucy, died in an accident while Athena was young, the girls’ parents chose to shut their daughters off from their closely knit town, causing the perception that the family is odd and unfriendly. And the fact that the Windhams are the town’s grave keepers furthers the thought that both girls are slightly off.

“What I loved most was the social commentary in this book….Athena’s experiences provide a raw and realistic look of the choices girls make in high school to become popular.”

The novel starts with the two sheltered girls grappling with the realities of their lives and reconciling their own beliefs with those of society’s and their parents’. In their childhoods, Athena and Laurel never questioned their parents’ strict rules regarding their graves and the isolation that was forced upon them, but as they have grown up, those beliefs are being challenged more and more. Athena begins seeking friendship with a popular girl at her high school and Laurel subverts her parents tight control by befriending a runaway in the woods by her house. The two girls slowly learn to reconcile deeply held beliefs with their own thoughts and learn many lessons on their way to the conclusion. But their lives are still not normal, always lurking in the background, a sinister ghost haunts the Windham’s graveyard, growing increasingly lonely and desperate for a friend.

THE GRAVE KEEPERS was unique. The concept was interesting: a world slightly changed and a little paranormal paired with the mundane struggles of teenage girls to fit in. I am not quite sure the audience it appeals to — it’s a combination of a few genres. Fans of ghost stories, alternative-world type books, as well as those simply looking for stories about girls struggling to fit in through high school should all find something to enjoy in the novel. Those seeking a classic coming-of-age themed novel with an interesting twist will be drawn to this book.

Unfortunately, while I thought the concept of the book was interesting, at some points the execution was lacking. My main problem with the book was the lack of momentum throughout the first two hundred pages. Most of those pages were used to set up backstory and mood of the story and sometimes it was effective but more often than not, it seemed more like filler that could have been cut. Also, the ghost aspect of the story was slightly confusing and forced. The ghost had minimal point of view throughout the novel and it was never fully clarified whose ghost it was and why it was so motivated. The ghost then became a main player in the last thirty pages of the novel which distracted from the main coming-of-age theme that the previous two hundred pages had been developing. Some of the themes were scattered and if they had been pulled through stronger towards the end, I would have ended up loving the book instead of just enjoying it.

Even though the pacing of the book was off at times, the characters were consistently well-developed and felt real. Athena felt real. Her hopes to be included within the popular girls at school and her failure to achieve that was relatable and carried a helpful message to high schoolers. Her struggles were human and relatable. And I had to love Maude and Laurel. They both care so little about opinions of themselves and strive to make themselves happy. They are quirky and interesting to read about and I enjoyed every page where they were involved.

What I loved most was the social commentary in this book. The look into high school and what popularity is worth is fascinating. Athena has the same thoughts many girls do that it is worth giving up personal standards to be included in a “superior” clique, and the reality of this situation is beautifully portrayed throughout the novel. Athena’s obsession with Roxanna compels her to violate her morals and she struggles for the rest of the novel to erase the guilt she feels and to make up for her actions, and in doing so realizes that being popular is not worth the sacrifices. This message is important to see in literature, and Athena’s experiences provide a raw and realistic look of the choices girls make in high school to become popular.

While I had a few problems with the structure, THE GRAVE KEEPERS was a compelling and raw look at coming-of-age in a society where you feel like an outsider.

Reviewed by Anna Kate L. on November 16, 2017

  • Publication Date: September 12, 2017
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • : 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 0062484753
  • ISBN-13: 9780062484758

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