Review: The Grave Robber’s Secret by Anna Myers




Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 978-0802721839


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

The night his father forces him to help empty a grave to sell its contents to the medical college, Robby Hare swears he will never rob another grave. Yet he can’t resist his fascination with the discoveries he knows the doctors will make as a result of their gruesome nighttime mission. Robby’s wish for another way for his family to make ends meet is answered when William Burke and his daughter, Martha, come to live at their boarding house. Although he is grateful to avoid the graveyard, Robby senses something dangerous about Burke, and suspects him of involving his father in a broader web of evil-and possibly murder. Can Robby expose their scheme before innocent lives are lost?

In an exciting journey through the back alleys and graveyards of Philadelphia in the 1800s, to the halls of the nation’s first hospital and the frontiers of medical research, Anna Myers will capture readers with the darker days of history.


I enjoyed The Grave Robber’s Secret!  It’s another book that made me stop and think about something that I hadn’t ever pondered before.  How did medical schools get cadavers for their research in a time before those little checkboxes on the back of our driver’s licenses?  Twelve year old Robby finds out the hard way; his father forces him to help rob graves, so they can sell the bodies to the medical school at the Philadelphia hospital.  Ugh!!  I could relate to Robby from the first page! The poor kid doesn’t want to do this grizzly work, but his father won’t hesitate to give him a beating if he refuses.

When Mr. Burke and his young daughter rent out two rooms at their boarding house, Robby prays that his grave robbing days are over with the steady income they will provide.  As he and Martha become friends, however, Robby becomes more and more suspicious of her father.  What does Burke do during the day, and why is he so secretive?  When Robby tries to find out, Burke threatens him and tells him under no uncertain terms to mind his own business.  This only fuels Robby’s curiosity, and he is determined to discover Burke’s secrets.

I couldn’t put the book down!  It is very suspenseful, and I loved the historical details as well.  When Robby and his dad deliver their first body to the medical school, he is fascinated by the chart of the human body that is tacked to the wall.  When he witnesses an operation, he is amazed.  While he hates grave robbing, he sees the need for the school to have cadavers for research.  How else will the doctors know how to save the lives of the sick and those injured in accidents?

Both Robby and Martha are wonderful characters, full of courage, curiosity, and compassion.  I liked them both! Their interactions were very convincing, and as they got to know each other and became friends, their bickering and subsequent reconciliations rang true.  Robby is critical and suspicious of Burke, while Martha only knows him as a doting father.  They clash on this point, and it threatens their friendship.  There are times that Robby does come on strong, and he doesn’t have the tact yet to discuss his concerns with Martha without sounding accusatory.

The Grave Robber’s Secret is a suspenseful middle-grade read, with lots of danger and great characters.  The historical details are fascinating, and provide an insightful background into the field of medical research.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher