Monday, April 9, 2018

The Gravedigger's Cottage

The Gravedigger's Cottage
by Chris Lynch
Recommended Ages: 12+

Sylvia, her little brother Walter, and their twice-widowed dad have already moved into a quaint cottage by the sea before they realize that a local tradition holds that the owner of the so-called Gravedigger's Cottage has a deep connection with death. Sylvia won't stand for that nonsense, though she does have a history of burying beloved pets in the yard, not to mention losing two moms. She and Walter only really get worried when their dad takes a leave of absence from work and starts obsessing about the house - saying he needs to seal up all the leaks. Sylvia likes the cottage the way it is. She likes her dad the way he was. She depends on her family's rituals to get along. She doesn't know quite how to deal with a dad who seems to be getting lost.

This is a charming, heartwarming little tale with some funny bits, some appealing characters, and a light touch of spooky mystery. The chapters alternate between the family's present-day experiences and Sylvia's memories of all the pets (not to mention moms) the family has lost. My one criticism of this book would be that it seems to make a sharp turn, partway through, from being one kind of story to being another. Okay, I'll add a second criticism, which is that it passes rather lightly over what I took to be a mental-health-related issue, which maybe could have been handled more honestly and thoroughly. I sensed that the author let himself out of this book by a side door when it started to get too hard. Judging by the type of material he is known for writing, I find that a little surprising.

This is my first encounter with the work of Chris Lynch. Nevertheless he is a very prolific author for young adults, with almost 50 books so far in a career going back to 1993. They include series about warfare (Vietnam and World War II), date rape, misogyny, growing up overweight, growing up gay in a tough neighborhood, growing up in a future world where animals can talk to people (I haven't read Cyberia, etc., so I'm not sure how accurate that description is). A lot of his stand-alone novels seem to involve sports and other school activities, or issues relating to troubled youth. Their titles include Johnny Chesthair, Inexcusable, Shadowboxer, Who the Man, The Big Game of Everything, Angry Young Man, and Little Blue Lies.

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