These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly » Book Review

Posted June 15, 2016 by Sierra @ Quest Reviews in Book Review / 15 Comments

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly » Book ReviewThese Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
Published by Random House Delacorte on October 27th 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Historical, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Love & Romance, Friendship, Coming of Age
Pages: 488
Format: Hardcover
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Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo secretly dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.
Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.
The more Jo uncovers about her father’s death, the more her suspicions grow. There are too many secrets. And they all seem to be buried in plain sight. Then she meets Eddie—a young, brash, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. Only now it might be too late to stop.
The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and the truth is the dirtiest part of all.

I am in awe of how this book made me feel. Ellen believes that it doesn’t compare to Donnelly’s A Northern Light, so I’m very excited to pick that one up soon and see how These Shallow Graves will measure up against Donnelly’s most critically-acclaimed work.

At first glance, I expected it to be a run-of-the-mill mystery with a throwaway romance. In fact, as I was reading, I had picked out a quote that I thought would impeccably sum up the cheesiness of the romance.

“He can only break my ribs, Jo, not my heart.”

Nauseating… am I right??

But I was forced to eat my words. As I accompanied Jo on her various jaunts through the city and witnessed her life through her eyes, I realized how similar she and I are (or were). I mentioned briefly in my introduction post about living in a rural part of India during some of my teen years. I lived with my grandmother, mother, baby sister and our maid under strict lock-and-key. Young girls were not to be out and about unaccompanied, let alone be out past twilight. There were rules about proper behavior, who I was allowed and not allowed to socialize with. And by god, I was not to tarnish the family’s reputation. Her struggles, were my struggles.

“Why is it, she wondered now, that boys get to do things and be things and girls only get to watch?”

I loved Jo, because she is a realistic character. Even the romance (which I initially scoffed at), and the love triangle (which as a rule, I utterly detest) didn’t drive her story. It just happened to be her life. As a young heiress, she was expected to wed, and wed well. It is her love for her father, and her noble notion of justice that drives her story of personal growth. While she made romantic decisions that I thought were hasty or foolish, they remained true to who she is. And above all, there were realistic consequences for her decisions. Her poor choices and in turn, the reactions of the characters around her helped her evolve and understand herself better, and in turn, make better decisions for herself in the future.

“You, on the other hand, wish to know things. And no one can forgive a girl for that.”

“That was what people did when they wanted to stop a girl from doing something—they shamed her.”

I also was very pleased with Nellie Bly as an inspirational figure to Jo. Nellie Bly is a reporter that Jo admires both for her accomplishments in a male-dominated field of journalism as well as her compassion for the ‘invisible’ people that pass through New York City. It hits me close to home because THIS is why it is so important to have women and minorities (of any kind, whether it is race or gender or sexual orientation) have such important roles in society. They inspire current and future generations to follow their path and further their path. Nellie Bly is the reason that Jo developed her strong sense of ethics, which I greatly admired.

“Headstrong is just a word, Katie – a word others call you when you don’t do what they want.”

I’m sure some of you are curious about why I am gushing so much about this book since I didn’t give it a full 5 or even 4.5 stars. That had to do with the mystery element and the pacing of it. Perhaps I have simply watched too many crime shows and read too many books and hence can spot a red herring a mile away. I figured out who the villain was within the first third of the book. I had guessed everything, except for one important surprise. However, I still enjoyed Jo’s and Eddie’s adventures mainly because they took me all around New York and it was fascinating to be there. My favorite scene occurred when Jo was walking along a bridge (maybe the Brooklyn bridge..?) with a friend, and I could just picture how exhilarating that must have been. I think that’s the wonderful thing about historical fiction for me, when compared to fantasy. It’s easier for me to picture and imagine that this actually happened. The next time I go to New York, I will walk alongside a bridge and smile to myself as I picture Fay and Jo Montfort.

“We who have means and a voice must use them to help those who have neither. Yet how can we help them if we don’t even know about them? And how can we know about them if no one writes about them? Is it so wrong to want to know things?”


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