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Girl at the Grave
by Teri Bailey Black
When Valentine was a child, her mother murdered a wealthy man. After her mother was hung at the gallows, Valentine was left in the care of her neglectful father. Forced to learn to care for herself, she lived in a ramshackle house and spent most of her time alone.
Now Valentine is a senior at the prestigious school, Drake Academy. Even though she has earned excellent grades, her mother’s death still haunts her. An outcast among the other students, Valentine relies on Sam’s friendship especially when a local man is murdered and people begin whispering that Valentine may be a murderer like her mother.
As Valentine searches for the truth behind her mother’s death, she soon finds that powerful people will do anything to keep their secrets. Unexpectedly, Rowan Blackshaw, the son of the man her mother murdered, begins spending time with her. Because of Rowan’s interest in Valentine, the other members of her school begin to include her in their group. Valentine longs to be accepted by society, but is acceptance worth burying the secrets of the past?
The first chapter grabs the reader’s attention by setting up the mystery, hinting that Valentine’s mother might have been innocent. Valentine and her two love interests are all well-developed. Because the story is told from Valentine’s point of view, the reader has the ability to understand and care about her struggle. Rowan’s character is an unexpected delight because he does not conform to the rich boy stereotype.
As Valentine begins to unravel the mystery of her mother’s death, her discoveries show the different motivations of some of the characters, which adds interest. When Valentine’s father and another woman disappear, the town sheriff, Valentine, and other town people seem uninterested in their disappearance, which seems unrealistic. The lack of drama that surrounded their disappearance made the discovery of their deaths anticlimactic.
The middle part of the book spent so much time on the love triangle that the mystery faded into the background. The ending of the book contained several surprises, which highlighted how far people will go to protect those they love. The fact that Valentine chooses to follow an unexpected path instead of marrying the boy of her dreams is an added bonus. In the end, what drives the story is Valentine’s personal struggle. Even though the story lacks danger and suspense, Girl at the Grave is an entertaining book that is worth reading.
- When Valentine pulls away and won’t let Sam kiss her, he says his brothers, “think I’m a right fool, letting you lead me around on a leash. They kiss a different girl every week.”
- Valentine learns that her father “has a woman across town. When he’s not home, that’s where he is.”
- Valentine spends time with Rowan. Once while he was at her house, he “reached around my waist. . . I tilted my head, making room for him at my shoulder, and he lingered there . . . If I moved at all, he would do the rest. I felt him wanting it, his lips poised over my skin, his heart only inches from mine. But my body sways with uncertainty.” They don’t kiss.
- Valentine and Sam kiss twice. The first time, “I leaned forward and touched my lips to his in the kiss that should have happened a long time ago . . . our lips soon warmed and softened, our heads tilting into one another, his arms sliding around me.”
- Rowan and Valentine kiss several times throughout the story. “He leaned closer and brushed his lips against mine. Just a touch, then drew back. . . Then he kissed me again—and this time our mouths immediately molded to one another, warm and perfectly fitted, as if our lips had been made for this purpose, for this tasting and breathing and exploring one another.”
- When Valentine tells Rowan she loves him, he kisses her. He “drew me into his arms, kissing me before I could catch my breath. A desperate kiss. A starving kiss. . .”
- Valentine’s mother shot a man. She was hung on the gallows three days later. Throughout the story, Valentine revisits the memory. When Mr. Blackshaw was shot, the sound of the shot came from “everywhere, jolting my bones and filling my nostrils with the burning stench of gunpowder. . . I see Mr. Blackshaw sway on his feet, looking startled, then topple slowly backward, landing hard on the walkway, his arms sprawled.
- Valentine remembers when her mother “hangs by her neck from a rope, her head tilting and her eyes staring fixedly, her hands clasped behind her back. Her boots dangle motionlessly at the bottom of her best black dress.”
- When Valentine was younger, the Frye boys would torment her by “chasing me in the schoolyard. . . They’d tied me to trees and stolen my mittens.”
- Valentine finds Mr. Oliver on the floor with a gash in his head. Valentine, “held his cold cheeks and felt his life sliding away beneath my hands, his face sagging, his body relaxing.” Later, she finds out he was poisoned.
- Mr. Fry hits his wife and kids. Valentine thinks, “I’d seen what a punch from one of his enormous fists could do; Sam had outgrown them, but not Mrs. Fry and the younger boys.”
- Valentine finds her father’s dead body. He is “on his back, staring upward, his eyes wide but seeing nothing. Icy and damp, both frozen and thawed.” Later she finds out he was poisoned, probably when someone gave him “a swig of liquor.”
- Birdy’s body was next to Valentine’s father’s body. “A dark gash split the back of her head, separating her thatch of short hair.”
- A woman attacks Valentine. “She grabbed a kitchen knife and lunged. . . She lunged with a furious screech . . . her knife sliced my upper arm.” They both grab for the knife and fight for control of it. Valentine pushes the woman, and “she stumbled back with a cry, blood flowing from a deep gash above her eye.” The woman falls, “hitting her head with a loud crack, then she crumpled to the floor.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Alvina Lunt’s “drunken father had broken both legs.” While he was in the hospital, Alvina learned about the unfair treatment of “lunatics.”
- Sam takes his mother to visit her brother. When his brothers took his mother, “they got drunk and beat up the neighbor.”
- Someone calls the doctor a “drunken fool.”
- When Valentine was ill, Mrs. Blackshaw drugged her, so she would keep sleeping.
- Sam calls someone an “arrogant ass” twice.
- Someone tells Valentine that she was “spawned by that tramp of a woman.”
- Devotionals are part of the school day on Fridays. During devotionals, Mr. Oliver reads from the Bible. “Man in his natural state . . . unassisted by the grace of God.”
- When Valentine finds Mr. Oliver, she prays, “Father who art in heaven. . . Please, God. Please help Mr. Oliver.”
- One of the characters could not get pregnant, and “she’d pleaded with the Lord for twenty years before her precious Philomena arrived, and her husband’s death soon after had only magnified the value of the blessing.”
- When Valentine’s mother is hung, Mr. Oliver tells her, “But take comfort, for your mother confessed her sins. She is in God’s hands now, and he knows all.”
- Some men think having a woman run a bank “is against God’s law.”