Continue below to read my review of the book brought to you by Xpresso Book Tours and Julie Gilbert!
'Cemetery Songs' by Julie Gilbert is the story of Apollonia Stone.. a girl who can hear the final thoughts of the dead. Struggling with her circumstances, a biracial teenager adopted into a transracial family who lives in one of those small towns with minimal diversity, her path to self-acceptance is littered with challenges.
When she finds out her birthmother has died, she starts to slip. In an emotional spiral, she accidentally sets fire to the high school, falls way behind in her classes, drives away her friends, and gets suspended from her job. To make things even worse, a former classmate witnesses the fire incident and blackmails her into helping him break the law.
Despite the way things begin between them, Polly has mixed feelings for her extortionist.. Billy Meyer. She's a compassionate girl and things aren't great for him either. So, naturally the more she comes to know of his story, the more conflicted she finds herself.
Volunteering for the city archive, amidst a research trip to a local cemetery.. Polly discovers a ghost she can actually communicate with. Harrison Card.. a kind, charming teenager who died mysteriously in the 1920's.. spurs her curiosity and her determination to find out more about what happened to him.
I was really intrigued by the premise of the book, which I felt sounded creative and would deal with some serious real world issues. The first half though.. is both incredibly slow and quite dull. I understand about slow building backstories and developing characters. That wasn't the problem. It was just monotone story telling. Though there were multiple people in scenes, initially.. none of them had any real distinction. No unique voices to separate them.
Around the midway point there was a definitive shift in the narration and dialogue. As Billy and Harrison emerged more openly across the pages, those personalities finally began to unfold. The voices of both boys and Polly becoming clearer.. brighter. From that point on, I was hooked. Though my main investment was in Billy and Polly.. I was eager to see how Harrison's story played out as well.
As for those important topics.. I just didn't think they were done as well as they could have been. Despite the author's personal background, the prose didn't feel as if it connected with the important issues that the story addressed. Likewise, aspects of Harrison's story were interesting. The author did touch on some culturally significant history, but seemed to skim over much of the emotional and psychological affects of the despicable behavior experienced by the characters.. which left it feeling kind of thin.
That being said, Gilbert is still a solid writer. The story is concise and well-told. After the midway point, which I just feel was a little too long to wait to get things moving.. I eagerly poured through the rest of the text.. and she did have me blinking back tears a couple of times. Just, not necessarily where I think she should have.
All-in-all, regardless of the few constructive criticisms above.. it's a worthwhile read. If for no other reason than to open eyes to some of the horrors of the past.. present.. and probably still the future ahead, to encourage the reader to learn more about these types of incidents on their own, and to raise awareness of the world around us.. to the real things others are still struggling with every day.. give this book a chance.