Balbena’s Grave by Nolan Carlson

Balbena’s Grave by Nolan Carlson
Publisher: Vinspire Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (165 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Teen John Riley is excited about his summer job sprucing up an old abandoned cemetery. It would give him a little money, allow him to play summer baseball, and be with his girlfriend, Susan. The summer is perfect until he discovers a crumbling tombstone on the outside of the cemetery fence. A girl who died at age sixteen in 1925 lay beneath it, and John is intrigued by a life cut so short.

Enchanted by his thoughts of a teenager who died so long ago, John wants to know more about this girl. His obsession deepens until one day, he hears flirtatious tittering coming from the depths of the grave. Soon, the girl who is supposed to be dead appears. It doesn’t take long for John to fall in love with her. Foolishly, he doesn’t realize the evil in this possessive, beguiling creature. Yes, he should have left her lying beneath Balbena’s Grave.

Someday you and I will die. Almost no one knows when or how this will happen but we all know it’s coming sooner or later. Maybe this is why cemeteries and ghost stories are so enticing.

Balbena is quite a creepy ghost. John is able to piece together the story of her life from an old newspaper article and a few conversations with older townspeople but I was pleased to see how much of her life remains untold. Somehow the dead feel scarier to me when our speculations about the past are only partially confirmed.

To be honest, though, I had a hard time relating to John as he comes across as a little too perfect. Until the plot starts moving he doesn’t seem to have genuine conflicts with anyone in his life. His family, friends, neighbors and girlfriend have nothing but good things to say about him and he’s consistently shown to be hard-working, loyal, respectful, patient and kind. There’s nothing wrong with writing virtuous characters, of course, but John is too good be true. We’ve all said and done things we later come to regret so it seemed odd to me that John needed a supernatural being to spur him into having a bad day.

It’s also puzzling that a novel set in present day would mention a newspaper keeping old copies of their paper in filing cabinets. It would have been far more realistic for John to search for the details surrounding Balbena’s death online either through a public search engine or by logging into the Burgman Sentinel’s digitized archives. Until John’s cellphone rings in this scene I took it to be an indication that the story was set at least twenty years ago.

Figuring out the most appropriate age recommendation was tricky for me. While there aren’t any sexually explicit or violent scenes this book would be most appealing to readers who are old enough to fall in love or work. Watching the characters react to everything that comes with these new experiences was one of my favorite parts of the story and for this reason I recommend it for only those old enough to commiserate with John.

Have you ever walked past a graveyard and asked yourself questions about the individuals buried there? Were they good people? What was it like to live a hundred years ago? Is there anything they’d have to say to those of us still living? If so Balbena’s Grave may be right up your alley.

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