“Too Decayed”: Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace


            Before I get deeper into this review, I have to give props to my county library because they’ve been on point with having newer books in stock. When I was younger it always seemed that I was two or three years behind everyone else on ‘what was new’, but that’s different now. Here, I present a review for one of the first YA releases of 2016.

            I’ll be honest and say that, at first, I thought this was too similar to a short story by Kendare Blake titled “On the I-5” and it was hard to separate the two. However, I noticed a blurb from Ms. Blake on the back of Shallow Graves so I guess that the world of writing, as always, is never truly original but always borrowed from numerous things. That aside, after the first few chapters I was able to fully dive into the book and found a gripping man vs. monster narrative.

            The story takes off right from the start as Breezy, our biracial, bisexual protagonist, wakes up in the dirt next to a shallow grave and a dead body. She doesn’t know who the man is, but she knows that he was a killer and that she now possesses his memories of murdering a family of five. The novel cuts back and forth between Breezy’s memories of her life and the night she was killed as well as the present action.

            Breezy wanders around highways and open roads, cobbling together other girls’ lives into a pity story, and is trying to figure out what she is now and what her purpose is. She keeps a NASA notebook full of her hypotheses and research (including an ongoing list of ways she can’t die) and lives a dirty, smelly life of nothing. She doesn’t need to eat or sleep, but knows that her new abilities and lack of life are something that she has to keep secret and safe.

            The story really takes off when Breezy encounters a ‘safe haven’ for those with dangerous lives and discovers that she’s not as alone as she believed, and that there’s a whole other world beneath the one she knew.

            Breezy’s best qualities are her love of her family, her dream of working for NASA and exploring space, and her scientific approach to the whole monsters-are-real thing. I am enjoying the new trend I’m seeing in YA fiction of protagonists of mixed race and ‘unusual’ sexualities beyond just straight or gay. While Breezy’s heritage and sexuality plays minimally into the story, it works for the best since this narrative is about her discovery of a dark, magical world and not about overcoming adversity in the usual way.

            One of the touches that I like the most is the vague, mystical explanation of why certain things can happen in this world: magic. Why can Breezy’s body heal itself even though she isn’t living? Magic. Why was Breezy brought back to life? Magic. It works as a wipe away excuse without being lazy.

            I will say that the climax of the ‘main plot’ action falls a little short, but is engaging and creepy. The reveal of who killed Breezy is predictable if you pay attention to the clues, but was satisfying in how ordinary it was. There are a lot of narratives out there about chosen ones and crazy far-fetched deaths, but this isn’t one of them. Breezy’s pre-death life is ordinary and one of the best things about the book because she was just a teenage girl…and then she died. As the book jacket says: “the heartbreaking trauma of a girl’s life cut short and her struggle to reconcile her humanity with the monster she’s become.” Obviously, since that’s basically my own novel in a sentence I’m fond of the premise and Shallow Graves does it well.

            So if you (still) enjoy paranormal novels about girls with dark powers, scientific theory and facts about space and space exploration, and are looking for a fast-paced, thrilling read I recommend Shallow Graves by Kari Wallace for you. It’s a great start to a new reading year and an excellent sign of the growing diversity of characters and creatures that the YA genre is bringing to the writing game.