The Gravesavers

Reviewed: November 18, 2007
By: Sheree Fitch
Publisher: Seal Books
316 pages, $8.99

Cinnamon “Minn” Hotchkiss has been having a really bad year. From her point of view the happy family she had been growing up in had been devastated by miscarriage that took the life of her little sister, Pippa. After that her normally ebullient mother, Dory, became a zombie and Corporal Ray, her RCMP father, seemed to be working so hard just to hold their life together.

It seemed to be the last straw when they decided to send her off to live with her grandmother Ida for the summer. Minn was terrified of what might happen to them while she was gone. She didn’t want to leave what seemed to be a budding relationship with a boy at home, or her bosom buddy Caroline, but Ray and Dory have decided they need some time to work on the recovery of their marriage, so of she goes.

This is where Minn’s story dovetails with a real, live, Nova Scotia tragedy the wreck of the S.S. Atlantic, which went down off the coast near Sandy Cove. Of the 952 passengers aboard, 562 perished and 277 of those were buried in a common grave near there, while another 150 were interred in the Star of the Sea cemetery nearby. On the women and children aboard there was one survivor, young John Hindley.

We get the tale of John Hindley in a series of chapters that alternate with Minn’s story, and give us his life from the time his family decided to emigrate from Ashton-under-Lyne to New York (a trip that only he survives to make) to the night the Atlantic went down in a storm. Its loss in 1873 raised a media storm that was unsurpassed until the sinking of the Titanic, in 1912, though I have to tell you that it is possible to have grown up in Nova Scotia and never have heard of it.

In Fitch’s novel the mass grave is in danger of being washed away by the ever encroaching Atlantic Ocean, a fact which Minn learns when she discovers a tiny baby’s skull washed up on the beach. Shortly after she shows it to Nan, she learns that the cantankerous old lady has a closet full of old bones and that she’s been wanting to do something to save the cemetery for years.

This need marks the beginning of a bond between the Minn and Nan. They have never gotten along well and there’s still a lot of tension between them, but Minn begins to notice that there’s more to Grandmother Ida than the whisker chinned witch she had always thought her to be.

Spooky tales of Elbow Island give Minn the inspiration to stage a publicity stunt in order to draw attention to the endangered gravesite. With the help of a mysterious lad named Max, she hatches her plot and goes to carry it out, only to find that there was more truth to the tales than she would ever have believed.

The Graveseekers is a touching story about personal redemption and about relationships, but the serious bits are leavened with enough adventure and humour to keep it from being too dark. Minn seems a believable 13 year old, but her story is good enough to interest any age.

Sheree Fitch is best known as a writer of children's’ poetry and picture books, but that’s likely to change.