Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tombstone Tea

Dahme, Joanne. Tombstone Tea. Philadelphia: Running Press Teens - Running Press Book Publishers, 2009. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Jenny loves her daughter, Amy, and would do and has done anything and everything for her. This will never change. Even after they are separated by Amy's death. Even years after Jenny has died herself, hoping for a reunion beyond the grave. When Jessie walks into Laurel Hill Cemetery and bumps into the metal angel over Amy's tombstone, Jenny knows she can use Jessie's life force to bring Amy's spirit back to her. After all, a mother's love is eternal.

Tombstone Tea alternates (in huge chunks) between shortly after Amy's death and Jessie's modern day experiences in the cemetery. We don't quite learn what really happened between Jenny and her daughter at the same time that we watch Jenny try to use Jessie for her otherworldly purposes, but the two stories still run alongside each other with Paul as a connection and guide for each. His role as a spiritualist in the early 1900's is an interesting one that I wish had been looked at more closely. But even without any explanation of the spiritualist movement, it's clear from the start that Paul's connection to the dead is both important and powerful. Not until almost the end of the book do we see how much it altered his life.

For me, the characters, not the two storylines, were the strength of Tombstone Tea. Paul and the other ghosts Jessie meets in Laurel Hill Cemetery are well-done and manage to convey the weirdness of finding oneself a ghost as well as the history of their former, living selves without detracting from the story. It's very Graveyard Book, especially since all of them, save Jenny, are almost completely non-threatening. And Jenny? She is deliciously creepy, obsessive and dangerous, both in life and after it. She is not, however, enough to ratchet this book's scary points up to the "horror" level. Though there are scary moments, the whole thing is much more paranormal, creepy, spiritualist, if you will, than downright scary. It is still a great Halloween read, especially if you're fascinated by the Victorians' fascination with death and the beautiful cemeteries they created.

There was one thing this book was missing that I noticed right from the start: an author's note about the real Laurel Hill Cemetery. If I didn't live in so nearby in Philly and have a sister who really likes visiting cemeteries and a girlfriend who really likes taking pictures of weird things (Jessie's dad calls Laurel Hill a "magnificent outdoor sculpture garden" (16) and he is so right), I wouldn't know that this book is set in a real place. This is a real shame for a lot of different reasons, first of which is the fact that the main historical ghosts in the story were also real people that are actually buried in Laurel Hill (except Paul, of course, for whom there is no record in real life or the book). The spooky reason being that Laurel Hill hosts a lot of events throughout the year including one called Dining with the Dead, which is happening tonight. Eerily close to a Tombstone Tea, don't you think?

Book source: Philly Free Library


anachronist said...

A very tombstone novel indeed! Would you mind posting some pics of that cemetery? Thanks for the review (but no, thanks, I won't read any tombstone novel right now for personal reasons, sorry).

Lawral the Librarian said...

anachronist - I haven't forgotten you! I've been scouring the apartment looking for pictures from Laurel Hill taken by people I actually know. In the mean time, I suggest that you check out the Stone Angels website or the <a href=">Laurel Hill flickr group</a>! The statuary really is gorgeous.

Lawral the Librarian said...

Sorry. Here's one that's clickable for the flickr group. pesky quotation marks.