Review: Graveyard of Lost Children - Katrina Monroe
Updated: May 14
Genre: horror, supernatural thriller
Published: Poisoned Pen Press, May 2023
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars, rounded up
"An entire life devoted to the care and nurturing of another, always fearing, always convinced you were screwing up, knowing deep down that whatever happened would be your fault. The surprising thing was that more mothers didn’t lose their minds."
The line between the normal anxieties of new motherhood and dangerous delusions blur in this sophomore horror-thriller by Katrina Monroe. Dark, tense and impossible to put down once I got started; I deliciously devoured this in less than 2 days, but was left with a slightly bitter aftertaste by the aftertaste.
Being a new mother can be plenty scary on its own right, and yet Olivia and her wife Kris have more to worry about than your average couple. Olivia was the victim of an attempted murder by her own mother when she was only 4 months old. Suffering from what was assumed to be post-partum psychosis, her mother became convinced that the baby she was taking care of wasn’t her daughter Olivia, but instead a changeling, swapped out by a black-haired woman who has been lurking at the edge of her vision ever since she gave birth. The only way to get her real daughter back, is to do the unthinkable to the changeling.
Saved in the nick of time by her grandmother, Olivia grows up without contact with her institutionalized mother, never knowing her side of the story of what happened that day, but never feeling the need to find out. That changes, when soon after giving birth to a daughter of her own, Olivia finds herself stalked visions of a black-haired woman herself. Has she inherited her mothers mental illness, or is something more happening here?
What I loved:
“Motherhood-horror” is a trope that seemingly gets me every time, and Katrina Monroe delivered even more so than she did in her debut They Drown Our Daughters. Graveyard of Lost Children truly managed to unnerve and disturb me, not only with its eerie imagery, but more so with its terrifying roots in reality. This needs to be said (and I’m glad the author herself does so on page 1): strong trigger-warnings for postpartum-depression/psychosis and subsequent thoughts of harm to self- and baby. Being inside Olivia’s mind as she begins to question if she’s losing her grip on reality is terrifying. I wasn’t able to find out if Monroe is speaking from a point of close experience herself, but her depiction of these difficult topics feel respectful and genuine. Her character work is impeccable here: she manages to portray Olivia as a likable and simultaneously unreliable narrator; a combination that is difficult at the best of times. She also keeps her sympathetic and (sort of) relatable, despite the very dark inner demons she wrestles during the story. The same can be said for Kris: I loved her character and the way their relationship was portrayed.
Because I came to care for the characters, I was tense throughout the entire story almost up until the ending.
What I didn’t love:
By the 275-page mark or so, I begin to worry that the book would fail to wrap up all its threads before the end, and unfortunately that was indeed the case. The ending feels rushed and leaves a lot of questions and problems unresolved. I’m personally the kind of reader who loves when the answer isn’t spelled out, but able to be puzzled out or interpreted by the reader in a satisfactory way. That isn’t the case here: no matter which explanation you believe leaves plot holes and unresolved issues.
I’m also a little conflicted on my thoughts on the representation mental-health, outside of Olivia’s character. I didn’t like the depiction of the mental health-institution Shannon is committed to, ór that of her fellow inpatients. Mental health facilities are not prisons, and depictions of hysterical women being strapped to gurneys do not belong in the 21st century. You could argue that it’s a reflection of the way Shannon experienced it, or that it’s due to the storyline being set 30 years ago. It still felt like a big contrast to Olivia’s excellent portrayal. Psychosis can lead to violence in its victims, but it’s luckily very rare, and we need to retire the “Shutter-island-trope” of mental health facilities being filled with violent criminals, locked up there for life. Because of the excellent portrayal of some of the other characters, it kind of balanced things out for me, but there were moments where the Shannon’s story definitely was toeing a line I didn’t like.
Overall, a wonderfully tense and gripping story that I thoroughly enjoyed about 80% off, and was ready to give a 4/5-star rating. The weak ending leaves it stuck at a 3.5, but still one I’d recommend if you’re in for a tense ride.
Many thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
You can find this book here on Goodreads.