Today’s book review is for Grave Images, by Jenny Goebel, published by Scholastic. I received an electronic advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Grave Images is a middle grades thriller. Thirteen-year old loner, Bernie, is having a lousy summer. Between her family’s monument business and a clinically depressed mother who hides in her bedroom all the time, Bernie finds it difficult to make friends. However, when her father hires a new artist, Mr. Stein, to make portrait etchings for the headstones, things start to get interesting. Bernie soon discovers that Mr. Stein is etching portraits of people before they die. She becomes determined to figure out whether Mr. Stein is merely predicting the deaths or if he’s causing them.
The novel is written in the first person point of view of Bernie. One of the things that I immediately liked was the stylized voice that Goebel gave to her main character. It has a sort of rural charm to it, and made it easy to imagine the character telling you the story–but it was just subtle enough that it didn’t disrupt the reading process. And through that voice, Goebel really makes Bernie come alive. Bernie is a likable character. She is flawed and hurting and lonely–but she’s also honest, determined, and caring. She has her flares of temper and frustration just like any other girl just starting puberty. So, on top of being likable, she’s also believable.
I also enjoyed that even though the driving plot of the novel is supernatural and spooky, there was a lot more going on in the story. While Bernie is trying to solve the mystery of the etchings, she is also working through family struggles and the confusion of a budding friendship. She is growing into an adolescent and starting to really explore her own identity.
Which isn’t to say that the driving plot isn’t enjoyable. It certainly kept me guessing for a long time. And I liked that it had just the right level of scary for the target audience. Even though there were deaths, there was no gore. There were no graphic descriptions to keep tweens up at night. In fact most of the fear element comes from Bernie getting herself worked up and spooked over her own speculation.
This is a wonderful choice to put middle graders in the Halloween spirit. Or, they can read it anytime they want a good, creepy read. It’s got solid writing and age-appropriate storytelling, for which it earns 4 out of 5 stars.
You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.