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Shallow Graves

by Kali Wallace

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3242181,321 (3.74)4
After waking in a shallow grave, Breezy, a high school senior, crosses the country seeking answers about her death and resurrection, discovering along the way a host of supernatural creatures, as well as a human cult determined to "free" them at any cost.
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» See also 4 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
I started Shallow Graves hoping for something original and dark but ready to be disappointed because I’m decades away from the target audience for YA novels. Kali Wallace exceeded my hopes and gave me a book that was original, thoughtful, beautifully written and where the darkness was laced with the possibility of a kind of happiness.

The first thing that struck me about Shallow Graves was the strength of the writing. I'm going to go through the first few paragraphs to show you what I mean.

The opening line is a classic:

"The first time I killed a man it was an accident."

That grabbed my attention both because it made me wonder how you kill a man by accident and because it sounded like there was a next time and that the next time wasn't accidental.

Then I learned about the man she killed:

"He didn't have any identification on him. He was white, probably in his mid-fifties. Average build, average height. Smoker. No tattoos or distinguishing scars. His fingerprints matched those found at a thirty-year-old crime scene in North Dakota; a family murder, both parents, son and two daughters, all killed one night at the dinner table. No one was ever arrested."

I loved the disappassionate way the man's true nature was revealed. He's the first monster in a book full of monsters. His low-key introduction was the first indication that, once your eyes are opened to them, you'll find monsters everywhere.

By the end of the next three paragraphs, I was hooked.

The first describes how the dead man was found:

"A real estate agent with the unfortunate name of Poppy Treasure found him three days after I killed him. She opened the back door of an empty house to air it out before her clients arrived and there he was, facedown, on the lawn, dead. The police released a description and pleaded for information, but nobody came forward. Nobody admitted to seeing him. They didn't even know how he had gotten to Evanston, much less how or why he had ended up dead in the yard of a foreclosed house in the Backlot. There wasn't a mark on him. The Medical Examiner blamed the death on a heart attack but the "unusual circumstances" of where he was found made them suspicious."

I admired the way this paragraphbuilds the tension and the weirdness factor while starting to establish an intimacy between the reader on the narrator, That "There wasn't a mark on him" showed me that this was no simple accidental killing and the "unusual circumstances" told me that I didn't have all the facts yet, while making me keen to learn them. The remark about the real estate agent's name adds a dash of personality and humour that made me want to like the narrator rather than think of them as a killer.

The next paragraph increased my empathy and again pushed up the weirdness.

"They meant my grave. There was a hole in the backyard of that empty house, about five feet long and eighteen inches deep. and in that hole they found hair, blood, fibres. Everything I left behind was too degraded for identification purposes. That's what you become when you die but you don't manage to do it properly: too degraded."

I love how that paragraph confirms that the narrator is dead, which is strange enough, and also suggests that they feel some blame for not dying "properly" and ending up in a "degraded" state.

The next paragraph established the relationship I, the reader, was going to have with the narrator and made me keen to learn more:

"This is how I killed him."

This sentence told me that I would be Breezy's confessor/confidant and that she was telling me her story so that she could understand it better.

I admired Kali Wallace's ability to write intriguing, thoughtful prose that was convincingly the voice of a seventeen-year-old girl. It was the quality of that voice that kept Breezy Lin's humanity at the heart of the story.

One of the things that makes Shallow Graves work so well is that Breezy's main challenge is to work out not just what she has become but who she is going to be. When she rises from her grave, a year after her death, she makes her first kill on instinct. She doesn't understand how or why she does what she does. She doesn't know what she's become.

The traditional horror route would have been to cast Breezy as a revenant version of an Onryō, rising from her grave driven by a hunger for vengeance against men who murder women. Breezy has the power to do this. She can feel the urge to use that power growing inside her. What made Shallow Graves powerful for me was that Breezy resists this urge, not because it's wrong but because she's mourning the life that her murderer ripped away from her. She knows she can't go back to her family but she aches to be with them. She knows that her long-held dream of being an astronaut, which she's trained for her whole life, is now out of her reach. She knows she can't be the woman she would have become and the loss devastates her.

Her first thought is to seek a cure for what happened to her so she can find a way back to being the girl her murderer destroyed. This leads her on a journey to find people who are or who understand the supernatural. She falls into the clutches of a cult that promises to cure her. She finds allies in unlikely places. She goes through an ordeal finally to meet with a supernatural being who can tell her what she is and how she can be cured.

Some of this journey worked well, especially the early contact with the cult but I felt that the plot meandered a little too much in the middle section of the book. I loved the ending and the choices that Breezy made.

Shallow Graves isn't horrifying in the slasher/gorefest kind of way. Its horror comes from understanding how much destruction men cause when they kill women and girls and how often they do it and that so many of them get away with it. For me, Breezy's sense of loss, even after she rises from her grave into a second life, had the biggest emotional impact. ( )
  MikeFinnFiction | Nov 12, 2023 |
I have no idea what I expected from [b:Shallow Graves|22663629|Shallow Graves|Kali Wallace|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1434989166s/22663629.jpg|42162445] but I was pleasantly surprised.

Breezy Lin was a great narrator. I found it easy to get into her mindset and follow her story without thinking "but why?" I can't get enough of interesting perspective characters who are neither white nor straight (Breezy is biracial and bisexual).

Kali Wallace has created a really interesting story and a sinister world in Shallow Graves, fantastical in a modern way, mixing standard paranormal monsters into every day life.

The story doesn't have the strongest plot, but in some ways, I liked that. Because Breezy is new to this paranormal world of witches and monsters beyond her wildest imagination, learning along with Breezy is interesting in and of itself.

Rating: 8.5/10
Gay-0-meter: 5/10 (there's no romance, but Breezy's bisexuality is touched upon at several points)

( )
  xaverie | Apr 3, 2023 |
3.5 Stars ( )
  Mrs_Tapsell_Bookzone | Feb 14, 2023 |
Meh. ( )
  Aestarii | Dec 27, 2022 |
Breezy wakes up a after she was murdered, as a man is pulling her out of her grave. Instinctively, she fights back, which is how she discovers that she can kill murderers (and get burdened by their memories of their murders). But she doesn’t know anything else, and as she goes across the country trying to figure herself out, she encounters other monsters—and monster-hunters. It’s inventive and gripping. Lots of violence, obviously, including harm to children. ( )
  rivkat | Feb 14, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kali Wallaceprimary authorall editionscalculated
Zeller, Emily WooNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my parents
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The first time I killed a man it was an accident.
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After waking in a shallow grave, Breezy, a high school senior, crosses the country seeking answers about her death and resurrection, discovering along the way a host of supernatural creatures, as well as a human cult determined to "free" them at any cost.

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