Grave Matter is a haunting portrayal of life after death and death after life

"Where there is life there must also be death - for every gift a sacrifice."


United By Pop received a free copy of Grave Matter in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are our own. This post may contain affiliate links.

Title: Grave Matter

Author: Juno Dawson

Purchase: Available in the UK and the US

Overall rating: 4/5

Great for: Fans of Patrick Ness, Daniel Handler, and Emily Carroll

Themes: Young adult, coming-of-age, romance, paranormal, supernatural, illustrations, artwork

Grave Matter by Juno Dawson

Review: “All energy is connected. If one drinks greedily from one pool, a thirst is keenly felt in another. Where there is life there must also be death – for every gift a sacrifice.”

First things first: this book is beautiful! One of YA’s most exciting collaborations has culminated in the creation of ‘Grave Matter’. Author Juno Dawson and illustrator Alex T. Smith have both ensured this mesmerising story comes to life and is accessible to all level of reader – in all its grave glory.

At just under 150 pages in length and with illustrations making up a large portion of it, this is a read that can hold a universal appeal. Beginner level readers and those with learning difficulties will find this a manageable yet interesting read. More advanced readers will also find themselves immersed in this story, which is only enhanced with the beauty of the art work. In the way of Patrick Ness’ ‘A Monster Calls,’ everyone can find a home in this story.

This begins with a sense of pervading eeriness that haunts every page due to both the nature of the writing and the inky shades of the illustrations within. The opening scene features a drunk Samuel mourning atop the grave of his recently deceased girlfriend, Eliza. Snow carpets the ground and blurs the gravestones around him. His pain is almost total, only pushed aside to make room for the overwhelming anger that consumes him.

The strength of emotion in the gloomy opening scene is felt, and not just witnessed, by the reader. Despite having never been prior introduced to the character who now eternally lies in her coffin home, I felt saddened by this loss and mourned with those left alive to grieve for her. Scenes from her short life punctuate their current grief to really drive home their feelings of undoing. We see the now-dead Eliza stand for feminism and we see the night that cut this fight short. We get to witness the love shared by ones so young as well as viewing the destruction of that love severed by death. Scenes from Samuel’s own childhood interrupts to hint to the reader at what is about to follow, and provide the hope that all may not be lost…

For Samuel, son of a pastor, death should bring him peace. Yet he can not find solace in his religion without Eliza here to steady him. A memory of his Aunt Marie leaves him to seek for an alternative to letting go. For what if he didn’t have to say goodbye to Eliza? What if the dead could be raised again?

Religion takes many different faces. None right and none wrong. Just different. Yet all the same. The testing of Samuel’s sense of traditional faith opposes the structure he has built his life upon. Yet he comes to realise that salvation can take many forms. But some require a price to be payed in return.

‘Grave Matter’ also brings up the issues of identity. Who are you without the one you love? Does the colour of your skin define you? Who do you become when divorced from your beliefs? For Samuel, beginning to answer these questions churns over every set of expectations he had about the world. There is more than one thing any one person can be in this shifting and chaotic planet we call home. We all have to trust in the path of our life and accept the hurdles we each face are part of it. For if we mess with our fate, our fate will mess with us in return. Where there is life there must also be death – for every gift a sacrifice.”

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