These Shallow Graves: A Review

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer DonnellyNew York. 1890. Jo Montfort wants her education and her life to mean something. She doesn’t want to finish out her time at school only to get married. Jo dreams of following in the footsteps of Nellie Bly to become a famous reporter who can write articles to help make the world better.

Jo’s dreams, and her more prosaic future, become uncertain in the wake of her father’s accidental death while cleaning his revolver. The only problem: Jo knows her father would never have been reckless enough to clean a loaded gun.

With the help of an ambitious young reporter, Jo sets out to find the truth. In her search for the truth, Jo will dig up old secrets and shocking truths in These Shallows Graves (2015) by Jennifer Donnelly.

These Shallow Graves is a standalone historical fiction novel.

Donnelly’s novel is well-researched and thorough bringing the world of 1890s New York to life around Jo’s story with thoughtful details and historically accurate settings.

The characters pale in comparison to these rich settings. Although Jo grows throughout These Shallow Graves, she remains painfully naive and idealistic to a fault. Her sensibilities are also decidedly (frustratingly) modern despite her upbringing in New York’s Gilded Age. Jo remains a fun, very feminist, heroine in this story about a girl making her own way but it’s impossible to wonder how likely such a story would be in the time period of the novel.

Jo never quite operates comfortably within her time period and the story suffers a loss of credibility as a result. As a mystery (and a romance) These Shallow Graves works well but not, perhaps, as well as it could while certain motivations and events bear the scrutiny of a close reading better than others.

These Shallow Graves is another fine historical mystery from Donnelly with the requisite doses of romance and suspense. Readers looking for an immersive read and a strong heroine will find much to recommend here.

Possible Pairings: Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman, The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee,  Nobody’s Secret by Michaela MacColl, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2015 for review consideration*

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