Gothic surrealism as everlasting as a ghost’s kiss blends with coming-of-age angst for the modern age.
Byrne introduces readers to a world in which entering one’s own grave is a rite of passage for 13-year-olds on par with Sweet 16 parties and graduation celebrations. Each year, newly teenage kids eagerly await receiving the keys to their very own personal graves. In fact, “a person’s grave was a window to her innermost thoughts. To go into another person’s grave was like eavesdropping on someone praying—it was beyond improper; it was flat out wrong.” The Windhams, a white family of grave keepers, live in upstate New York. High school junior Athena spends all her free time in her grave, but younger sister Laurel hasn’t embraced the ritual, much to the chagrin of her overprotective parents. It’s an eerie concept with just enough curiousness to make a person want to know more. Byrne’s masterful presentation of minute details makes the whole ritual world feel so real readers will want to Google it. But while the story is as layered as any cemetery worth its salt, it also juggles multiple storylines, including: the death of a sibling and the loss of a child; home schooling vs. traditional school; suffocating loneliness and a missing child. The result is a congested plot and obtuse characters.
Atmospheric writing and a premise that’s as fresh as newly turned earth can’t compensate for an overcrowded plot, making this a good effort but a challenging read. (Fiction. 12-16)