Sometimes, I just need some “brain floss.” I adore a book or series in which I can completely lose myself to obsession (see my review of Golden Son for examples of my obsession capabilities), but sometimes all I want is to read something simple, something that doesn’t make me think too hard. I want something with easy characters and plot points, and is it too much to ask for a book to be under 250 pages? Quick & dirty, in and out; I pick it up & BAM, I’m already finished, without a tear in sight.
Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer was sort of that book for me. But first:
Sara has never been out of the tiny town of Hope, Ontario, where she has been in an orphanage all her life. After a fire destroys the orphanage, clues about her parentage—a medical certificate and a Star of David—lead her to Germany. Despite her fears—she doesn’t speak the language, she knows no one in Germany, and she’s never been on an airplane—Sara arrives in Germany determined to explore her newly discovered Jewish heritage and solve the mystery of her parentage. What she encounters is a country still dealing with the aftermath of the Holocaust. With the help of a handsome, English-speaking German boy, she discovers the sad facts of her mother’s brief existence and faces the horrible truth about her father. Ultimately, the knowledge she gains opens up her world and leads her to a deeper understanding of herself.
Kathy Kacer’s novel (novella?) is one of seven books in what is called the “Secrets Bundle,” a grouping of short, interconnected YA novels that can be read as a group or individually. I read Stones on a Grave without having read any of the other “Secrets,” and I feel completely whole in spite of that. The novel works beautifully as a stand alone, as I’m sure it would within the group, as well.
Now, as I was saying before, Stones on a Grave was about 90% the brain floss that I needed. The writing was fluid and easy, although a bit shallow and underdeveloped. I sympathized with the main character, Sara, as she endured the tragic loss of her orphanage home and the realization that her life was about to take a huge turn. At times, things felt a bit forced, like the relationship with the good-for-nothing boyfriend; it was infrequent, insincere moments like these that wrenched me out of the easy, breezy mindset. I think, with a bit more effort and backstory, these issues could have been resolved easily to be as effortless as the rest of the book.
That was the other issue I had with the book; it was so short! Remember just a few paragraphs ago when I pleaded for a book under 250 pages? Now I know why I so rarely read books that fit this qualification. They’re unsatisfying. Maybe it truly takes 400-ish pages to include the backstory needed in order for me to feel complete. Stones on a Grave was so short that it felt rushed. I was literally about 40 pages away from the end when all the pieces started falling into place and I was truly worried that I was going to be left with one heck of a cliffhanger. Kacer managed to tie up the loose ends, but it felt forced, as though she hadn’t dedicated the same amount of time to that last 40 pages as she had dedicated to the first 180.
On a positive note, wanting more from this book is a good problem to have, I think. The characters were realistic and relatable, the issues were compelling and interesting, the plot twist was entirely unexpected, and the ending, while rushed, was satisfying. I almost hesitate to call this book “brain floss,” since it deals with the Holocaust, and that subject is rarely considered “light reading.” Kacer managed to deal with a very real and serious matter, however, in a way that would be thought-provoking and enlightening to YA readers, while keeping it light enough not to induce tears. Despite the difficult subject matter, it felt flossy to me!
This book makes me wish there were sub-star rating levels. Technically, I’d like to give it 4 stars, since it was light, easy, and likable, but 4 stars makes it on par with Red Rising, which is was NOT. But then 3 stars seems harsh. How about 4 stars by “books for my classroom” standards and 3 by “Lindsay-rating” standards?