After her mother was hanged for murder years ago, Valentine has grown up largely an outcast in her small Connecticut town. But after she learns that there may be more to the story than she knows, she vows to uncover the truth even if it means uncovering all the secrets the townspeople have been keeping. Meanwhile, her heart is torn between the childhood friend she’s always known and the son of the man her mother killed. If only she can clear her mother’s name and get the happy ending she’s never thought she could have.
To be honest, Girl at the Grave (Tor Teen, 2018) wasn’t my favorite. I read it because historical mysteries are often fun, and this one sounded intriguing. But I didn’t expect how much of the story would focus on which boy Valentine should choose. In and of itself, this isn’t the end of the world, but there was also a lot of the old “not like the other girls” trope. The combination of two boys mysteriously being head over heels for Valentine while she despises the more accepted and traditionally feminine girls in the town didn’t sit that well with me.
It also just dragged a lot in places, which sometimes does happen with mysteries–that point where the information is still necessary to set up the end but where there hasn’t been a big revelation yet is a real thing. But in this case, the ending just came rather abruptly and with a sudden reversal of Valentine’s point of view on one character that didn’t feel adequately explored.
Nor did the setting work that well for me–this is supposed to be Connecticut in the mid-1800s, but nothing about the descriptions truly evoked either time or place. There’s so much that could be explored in historical fiction, really painting a picture of another time. And yet there simply wasn’t much there aside from some surface level details of everyday life. It’s an oddly limited story in that sense, and I wished that the past had been engaged with more deeply.
I supposed the other major part I struggled with was just not liking Valentine that much. And I know that unlikeable female characters are fine, and yet! In this case I didn’t feel that it was an intentional thing, but simply so-so writing. The story leans heavily on Valentine being an outsider who has been ostracised by the great and good and yet multiple characters throughout the book try to protect her. Rowan, who is basically a cardboard cutout of a character, falls in love with her and is willing to give up his entire future for basically unexplained reasons.
This is pretty harsh as I’m writing it, and I did finish the book after all. There’s just enough spark in the characters and premise that I kept reading, hoping that it would surprise me after all. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite ever get there for me.