These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
Rating: Iron Jawed Angel
“Why is it, she wondered now, that boys get to do things and be things and girls only get to watch?”
These Shallow Graves tells the story of Jo Montfort a rich young woman about to graduate from finishing school at the turn of the last century in New York City. Why didn’t I read this book sooner? I am now kicking myself. Sometimes, I am so weird about authors that I love. I hoard their books and them have to gear myself up to read them. It is as if I am afraid to be disappointed. The internal hype can really let you down.
I LOVE the turn of the century setting. It very much felt as if it was taking place in the same New York as Caleb Carr’s The Alienist which for me is a good thing. I love Jennifer Donnelly writing. There is such attention to detail. She seems to be able to make the whole setting sharp and clear in the readers mind. This is especially wonderful in historical novels. I have never lived in turn of the century New York and aside from films and books set there I never will be able to see it. Jennifer Donnelly writes as if she were sitting on a bench in the middle of the city in 1904. You can see the grungy funk on the street urchins neck or be slightly overwhelmed by the opulence of the uptown mansions.
Jo was an interesting character for me. She was contradictory. She is a budding journalist with some feminist ideas and yet there are many things about her life that she doesn’t question. There is an arranged marriage in her future and she is just sliding along towards it as if there was no other choice. “Why of course I should marry the nice, rich young man. He is perfectly bland so of course that is what makes him awesome.” Her growth throughout the novel is quite extraordinary. She started off not really seeing the world that she wanted to report on. She had some feminist ideas and wanted to shed light on the terrible things going on in the world but was blind to the injustices that surrounded her each day. Jo learns to see in this novel. One of the best parts of this novel was Jo willingness to listen to those around her and learn.
I really liked Eddie. He was occasionally a jerk. However, Jo was so occasionally clueless or sheltered enough that I was okay with it. He was overly protective of Jo in a way that was consistent with the times but also flexible enough to let her grow. I love the sparks that he and Jo set off of one another every time that they are together.
The examination of class in this novel was very well done. No one was portrayed as a saint. It showed that different social classes are free in different ways. There is a whole discussion about marrying for position and prostitution that I found very interesting.
Plot wise, I found this a little predictable but I am super critical of anything even remotely mysterious if I am not shocked to the depths of my soul by it (no foreshadowing please, I pick up on that shit.) I did want the book to go on another couple of chapters because I want to know exactly how things turn out.
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.