Scholastic Press, 2013.
Bernie’s life is surrounded by death. Her father runs a gravestone carving business out of the garage; there are blank gravestones all over the yard; and Mama’s taken to her bed, crippled by a grief of her own. People, especially kids, aren’t exactly eager to come around Bernie’s house and be reminded of death everywhere they look, which makes for a lonely summer for Bernie. The only kid who’s interested in hanging around is pogo stick riding Michael Romano, whose mom’s the new sheriff. He’s a pretty embarrassing boy. Bernie’s not sure she wants to be seen with him, much less hang out with him.
When Bernie’s dad allows a mysterious man with a skill for carving to stay in their carriage house apartment, Bernie has a bad feeling. That bad feeling gets worse when people begin dying at an all too rapid pace for a small town. Bernie’s afraid their mysterious visitor is the cause. Can she and Michael prove it before more lives, possibly theirs, are lost?
I liked this book, and I think middle grade readers will like it, too. It’s creepy but not keep-you-awake-all-night scary. It’s got a bit of magic, a good mystery, and a fast moving plot. The kids are the active problem solvers with adults taking an important but secondary role. Readers will relate to thirteen-year-old Bernie’s mixed feelings about a lot of things: her relationship with Michael, her mother’s depression, and her view of herself.
The characters in Grave Images are pretty unusual for a children’s book. Dad and grandma run the house and business because Mom is debilitated by depression after the loss of her infant son. Goebel’s use of the mother’s depression and the family’s loss of a child are skillful. In the story it achieves the function of removing adult focus from Bernie, allowing her to make the mistakes and take the risks she needs to while keeping the plot humming along. The reader sees just how the family is dealing with—and suffering from— Mom’s troubles. Though, as an adult, I was mentally screaming for the adults in the book to get Mom some skilled psychiatric care, Bernie’s own mixed reactions to the situation, sometimes sympathetic and sometimes angry or hurt, felt real and honest.