Is It Dead in Here or Just Me?

BOOK REPORT for Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery by Mary Amato

Cover Story: “The Raven”
Drinking Buddy: “The Cask of Amontillado”
Testosterone Estrogen Level: “The Tell Tale Heart”
Talky Talk: “The Premature Burial”
Bonus Factors: Poe, Cemetery ‘Life’
Bromance Status: “The Imp of the Perverse”

Cover Story: “The Raven”

The dark cover, along with the creepy raven, is a nice contrast to the goofy title.

The Deal:

Lacy wakes up confused and scared. She’s in some Baltimore cemetery, surrounded by a bunch of Victorian cosplayers. They really are staying in character, all these proper ladies and Civil War soldiers and such. But soon the truth dawns on her. Lacy is dead. She has no idea how, but she is. What’s more, she’s in a cemetery that hasn’t had a burial in over a hundred years. The dead are restless and are interested in this new, modern girl.

Unfortunately there are strict rules for the afterlife. Three strikes and you’re suppressed: forced to spend eternity silently in your coffin. Lacy promptly gets two strikes by screaming and cursing when she realizes the state of things. Actually, almost all the residents are either suppressed or choose to always sleep. There’s only about a dozen who still rise at night: Mrs. Steele, the cruel rule enforcer; her son Sammy, who died in the Civil War and takes a liking to Lacy; Virginia, the young wife of a famous poet; an intelligent raven; and a handful of other folks. Quickly finding herself on the wrong side of the afterlife, Lacy has to find her place in this strange new society while still trying to figure out just how and why she ended up here.

Not interested in being the new termite collector, Lacy suggests she host as open mic night for the residents (she was an aspiring poet in life). And maybe she can get help from one of the graveyard’s most famous residents, Virginia’s husband, Edgar. He was kind of a big deal in life.

Drinking Buddy: “The Cask of Amontillado”

Lacy is obviously pretty overwhelmed. She has no idea that she’d died, and instead of being able to come to terms with this, she’s suddenly on double secret probation, faced with eternity in a coffin if she accidentally says a bad word. To make matters worse, her older sister keeps showing up at the cemetery, drunkenly talking to Lacy (though unaware that Lacy can hear her), but never explaining how she died. This would be enough to break the sanity of many.

But Lacy decides to make the best of it. She’s used to cliques and she’s quick to discover which ghosts are canoodling in each other’s tombs, who might be an ally, and who’s a mean ghoul, er, girl. And if she’s going to go down, she’s going to go down swinging. This cemetery is going to have an open mic night!

Mic. A microphone. It’s this little stick that you talk into…

Testosterone Estrogen Level: “The Tell Tale Heart”

For dead people, they certainly lead exciting lives. Young Virginia is sneaking around with a spirit named Colby, and doesn’t like Lacy upsetting her role as the youngest, prettiest spirit in the boneyard. Sammy, an aspiring poet, would really like to get to know Lacy, but is constantly thwarted by his mother and another young soldier named Billy, who would also like to get close to Lacy. A lot of the dead are ready to overthrow Mrs. Steele’s tyranny, but lack a leader to organize things.

And in the middle is Lacy, who’s still trying to process the afterlife. But she realizes that just because someone is dead, doesn’t mean that they have lost the desire to express themselves. What this place needs is a live poetry reading…whoops, poor choice of words.

Talky Talk: “The Premature Burial”

The book was written as a stage play, with characters’ lines and stage directions. Of course the stage directions are far more detailed than an actual script, so we get a lot of backstory and internal dialogue. Lacy is a great main character, trying to maintain her freedom, communicate with her sister, and liberate the dead, all while keeping her sanity and getting her flirt on with a boy who’s a century and a half older than her.

The main problem I have with the book is that it’s never adequately explained why the spirits follow the dictatorial Mrs. Steele. Out of nearly 150 dead, only about a dozen aren’t suppressed or in hiding. When the suppressed attempt to escape, huge blacksmith Owen stomps them back underground. The thing is, Owen is actually a gentle soul who’s in love with Clarissa, one of the suppressed. So why don’t the spirits tell Mrs. Steele where she can shove it? We never really find out, and after a hundred years in a coffin, I think the time would be ripe for a revolution. One of those niggling yet important plot points that took me out of the story.

Bonus Factor: Poe

Westminister Cemetery has a famous resident: Edgar Allan Poe, (d. 1849). Poe was almost immediately suppressed, and has been sleeping ever since. But Lacy convinces the great storyteller and poet to sneak out, just so she can fangirl all over him. Poe, who doesn’t remember anything about his mysterious death, is delighted to realize that he is still fondly remembered. .He’s achieved immortality in more ways than one. He’s also excited to be reunited with his wife, Virginia, who isn’t totally thrilled about picking up where they left off (she was only thirteen when they got married). Poe is all about the open mic night and is willing to help Lacy organize it. But how to get rid of Mrs. Steele for the night? Bury her under the floorboards? Seal her up in a wall? Throw her in a pit?

Bonus Factor: Cemetery ‘Life’

Much like Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, the dead here have their own society, made up of people who died decades, if not centuries apart. It’s interesting to see how they interact, and sometimes romance each other. The author has created interesting in-universe rules, such as the dead having access to anything they’ve been buried with, such as Sammy and his poetry journal.

It’s also fun to see how the long dead react to a modern girl like Lacy, with her skimpy-by-their-standards clothes and radical notions about the place of a woman. Lacy’s poetry night inspires a lot of the dead to come to terms with some of their own issues. For instance, one spirit describes themselves as what we would now call a transgender woman. For the first time since the early 20th century, these people are living.

Bromance Status: “The Imp of the Perverse”

A flawed story with a lot of likeable characters, I enjoyed spending time with this book…but not an eternity.

Literary Matchmaking:

  

• For another book about a cemetery society, read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

• Another teenager tries to work out how she died in Holly Schindler’s Feral.

Aspen, by Rebekah Crane, features another popular dead girl.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor a nice cup of tea for writing this review.