“These Shallow Graves” is a novel by Jennifer Donnelly. Published by Delacorte Press, it is a young adult, romance, mystery, and historical fiction novel. It is a book of 488 pages, each of which is filled with suspense, emotion, and mystery that will keep you turning the pages with curiosity.
Set in the 1890’s in New York, the story is focused on Josephine – or Jo – Montfort, daughter of one of New York’s most successful businessmen, owner of a newspaper for twenty years and partner of a massive shipping firm. Jo is beautiful, rich, young, and popular. A 17-year-old, she will soon graduate school and marry Bram Aldrich, a fine young man from another wealthy and successful family, a friend whom Jo has known for a very long time. Jo, however, has other dreams for herself; she dreams of becoming a writer, just like Nellie Bly, her idol. At that time, though, it was deemed unacceptable for a young lady of her class to practice such a profession. Her determined personality and the need to know the truth will completely change the course of the story.
Jo’s life is perfect; but that is about to change. On September 17, 1890, Jo is at Miss Sparkwell’s School for Young Ladies, which is nothing out of the ordinary. Suddenly, she is called to the office. Jo thinks that she is called to the office because of an article she wrote about the abuse of girl laborers at Fenton’s Textile Mill. Though Jo’s article could have been controversial, and a good reason to be called to the office, she soon learns that it is not about that; Charles Montfort, her father, is dead. According to Bram and Addie, he “was cleaning a revolver in his study last night and it went off”. That is when Jo’s life takes a dramatic twist.
Jo does not believe her father’s death was an accident- he was far too clever to clean a loaded gun. One day, after her father’s funeral luncheon, she decides to go to her father’s newspaper, to deliver a bequest from him. She meets Edward – or Eddie – Gallagher, a handsome reporter who, unaware of Jo’s background, says that her father committed suicide. Furious, Jo starts yelling, which attracts attention. This poor first-impression causes them to get to know each other better. Together, they discover the cruel reality of her father’s death, that it wasn’t an accident. How far will Jo go to uncover the truth?
“Be careful how deep you bury the past”.
Jennifer Donnelly has an excellent writing style. Through vivid descriptions, I was able to imagine the setting through Jo’s eyes, which was amazingly fascinating. The first page-and-a-half is a flash into the future. The book starts with Jo, Eddie, and Oscar, a character that Jo meets later into the story, digging up a grave. This introduction engages the readers. Also, there is a map of New York in the very beginning of the book, which helps readers understand events and where they take place better. It is a very fascinating book, and I constantly found myself saying “one more chapter”. I also like most of the characters’ personalities. Even though Jo Montfort is extremely wealthy, she acts very humble most of the times. It is a very well-written book, full of mystery, suspense, and interesting characters. It is very original and different, and I can say it is one of the best books I have read so far. The characters have unique personalities and are well-drawn, and what is socially acceptable in this story seems to correspond to the era.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys suspense and mystery. Most of the events in the story are unpredictable, which is something that makes it appealing. I particularly enjoyed the ending of this book. Though I had my suspicions, it was different than what I had imagined. If you are sensitive towards references to subjects such as dead bodies, strange odors, and murders, I would question if this is the book for you. Overall, I would rate this book 5/5 for the interesting plot and the author’s writing style. +13.