Grave Images, by Jenny Goebel

Today I'm taking part in the readathon that's kicking off this year's Middle Grade March, and finally, after months of book guilt, I have finished Grave Images, by Jenny Goebel (Scholastic, November 2013).  The book guilt comes from the fact that when Grave Images arrived in my life, I was right in the middle of reading for the Cybils Awards...and though Grave Images travelled with me to Austen for last fall's Kidlitcon, and though I kept moving it to more conspicuous places within my house, I just never got to it till now.

In one sentence--Gothic-esque horror for the young (probably girl) reader who likes creepy but who doesn't actually want to be scared too much.

Bernie (short for Bernadette) helps her dad out as much as she can with his gravestone carving business.  She's never felt it was morbid at all--it's just a trade, allowing for some artistic creativity (which she values).  But then a mysterious stone carver knocks on their door.  His artistry at etching portraits into stone is astounding, so good it seems almost impossible that he could have done it by hand with his old tools.  The man and his tools give Bernie the chills...and rightly.   For there is Dark Evil afoot, and the beautiful stone carvings the man makes hide a terrifying truth!!!!  (cue sinister music.)

So.  Bernie and her annoying not a friend but of course really a friend Michael start to probe into the past of the mysterious artist, uncovering much creepiness.   Bernie's dreams become haunted.  And finally, in a cemetery at night Bernie must confront the evil that's invaded her life...and not give into the temptation it offers. (Gothicly, it involves an apparition in a white flowing gown.)

This one is just fine to give to a ten year old girl looking for a bit of a chill that won't actually lead to nightmares.  There is death, but it's people dying of magically induced heart-attacks, as opposed to more troubling dismemberment by hell hounds or some such.   There's a bit of budding kid romance, but Bernie and Michael are 13, so I guess a kiss on the cheek and some hand holding isn't that shocking.  

It didn't quite work for me--the horror wasn't particularly subtle or chilling, and I could have done without the underlining of lessons learned that we get at the end.   On the plus side--religion as part of ordinarily life is scarce in kid's fantasy; here Catholisism is a part of the way things are (though not involved in the horror element of the story).   

Short answer--the target audience might well enjoy it; grown-ups, not so much.

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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