Book Review: Melissa Marr’s GRAVEMINDER

Huge perk of working at a bookstore: author signings. As many as they’ll let you have. And if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that published authors geek me right out.

So June 9th, Melissa Marr – whose Wicked Lovely teen series has been a New York Times bestseller – has just published her first adult book, Graveminder. I haven’t read any of the WL series (as I am admittedly skittish of paranormal teen anything, thanks to the Twi-nomenon), but I did manage to get my grubby paws on the advance reader copy of Graveminder and, feeling a lot like I was about to tackle a homework assignment, read it.

To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I knew it was going to be vaguely supernatural – it does, after all, involve the “Hungry Dead.” But beyond that, I hadn’t a clue. Honestly, I hadn’t even heard of Melissa Marr before the big BOOK SIGNING!! posters went up.

Graveminder is set in the nebulous town of Claysville, for which no real geographical context is given. It’s modern day, ish; there are cell phones and airplanes, but you do get a distinct feeling of a place that’s sort of been abandoned by the progression of time, as is the way of many small towns. This one is different, however: there is a small problem with the dead not staying put. It falls to the Graveminder to provide their graves with words, food, and drink, so that they will behave. When the book opens, the current Graveminder is Maylene Barrow – shortly thereafter, she is killed, and it falls to Rebekkah Barrow, her granddaughter, and Byron Montgomery – the new Undertaker and a man with whom she has had a complicated past – are the only ones that can get to the bottom of the mystery and make sure that the dead stay buried.

Straightforward, yes? But this is, finally – FINALLY – not a shambling-zombie piece in which Mr. Darcy or Heathcliff or Huck Finn’s friend Jim or Captain Ahab or Jesus or anyone else from classic literature why can’t you come up with your own characters, you lazy pieces of crap?! show up, or fodder for a video game/movie/wall calendar/AMC series/whateverthefuck/IAMSOSICKOFZOMBIES, but a piece in which human relationships are examined, the meaning of family, and, when shit gets real, the gumption of folks to get out and do – no matter how terrified they, no matter how little sense it makes – but that they will go and do and risk their lives for family. Because that’s what family is – no matter your blood – people you love. People you’d die for.

Barnes & Noble classifies this book as SciFi/Fantasy. I’m not surprised, though I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been classified as Fiction, either. I read a lot of science fiction/[urban] fantasy – as is bloody evident – and I generally try to stay away from literary fiction because it’s generally angsty and pretentious and really interested in showing how much more cultured and deep and hip the author is – but, for some reason, I can really get into some postmodern, unnecessarily tragic starcrossed lover stories, all awkward emotional revelations and uncomfortable prose  – Wrack, James Bradley;The Outlander, Gil Adamson; Blue Nude, Elizabeth Rosner; A Good Student, Elliott Mabeuse (the NSFW & BDSMy erotica version of this theme, and an absurdly good book) – and Graveminder walks the line pretty well. A major subplot is Rebekkah and Byron’s past/present/future relationship, and it’s something that gets talked about a lot, but Marr keeps it from getting cumbersome, from getting too angsty, too teenfic, too romancey, too anything but important to the storyline. Because, after all, it isn’t really about them – it’s about the Graveminder and the Undertaker and their roles in Claysville.

4/5 stars. And like I said, Melissa Marr will be in the Barnes & Noble on Forest Drive in Columbia, SC, on June 9th, from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m., to talk and sign books.

Follow Melissa Marr at @melissa_marr. Check out http://www.melissa-marr.com for more.

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