Review–These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly


These Shallow Graves

by Jennifer Donnelly
Summary: Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep.

Source: I received a digital copy from NetGalley

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These Shallow Graves has a beautiful cover and an intriguing synopsis, making it an obvious choice for my Creeptober ReadAThon. It also has about a 4 star average rating on Goodreads, which is always great. I was excited to read it.

I am definitely in the minority, but I did not care that much for the book.

The book often talked about the limited choices that women of that time period had and how stifling it was for Jo. She wanted to write, she was naturally curious, and she cared about the less fortunate. I love when books deal with that issue and feature protagonists worth rooting for who fight against their expectations.

However, Jo was awful. She did possess curiosity and took tons of risks, but she was incredibly naïve about everything and couldn’t seem to understand the difference between taking risks for the right reasons and just being idiotic and dangerous. For someone who was so curious, it seemed odd that she didn’t ask more questions before relying on her own limited knowledge of the world, especially if she realized how limited she was. She knew she wasn’t equipped to take on the mystery on her own, yet her reaction to every puzzle was to rely 100% on her own instincts. She noticed that her choices were limited and that adults frequently urged her away from her questions and from her interests because women weren’t supposed to be a certain way, but never once seemed skeptical of the people in her life, authority, newspapers, police, and other major figures in society despite this realization. She made no sense at all.

I wanted to root for Jo because she was certainly onto something when she overheard a reporter say that her father’s suicide was no suicide at all. I respected Eddie, the reporter, and I thought that Jo’s adventure would lead her to better understand the dangers and secrets of the world she lived in. I wanted her to realize that perhaps the privileged few were not ignorant of the struggle of others, but purposefully decided not to expose themselves to it to avoid scandal. I wanted her to question why she wasn’t allowed to be curious or go out alone. I wanted her to question her mother’s fear of scandal and use that line of logic to wonder what secrets her family would be willing to bury in order to avoid one.

Once she realized Eddie’s lifestyle and she met some of his peers, along with the girl who would soon be sold into prostitution, I thought she’d wise up. I couldn’t imagine someone could be so naive about the underworld. She didn’t pick up on anyone’s comments or assumptions that she was a working woman at night until Eddie had to literally explain it to her like she was 10. She refused to see that some of the wealthy people she knew could possibly be bad people, which irked me. She almost got a ride from a strange woman and did not think twice about it even though she could have been, and almost was, robbed and murdered.

I really liked Eddie’s character and admired his search for the truth. He seemed pretty smart about the world and knew what stories to sell to other papers because they’d be censored at his own. I didn’t like how quickly he and Jo fell into each other and I don’t understand how someone who was so smart and motivated could fall for such a naïve girl. I honestly thought he was using her to get to the bottom of what was a crazy and interesting mystery for the longest time.

The mystery itself was great. I loved Eddie’s friend, the mortician, who studied the new subject of forensic science and was able to find out a lot about a crime based on the body he was given. It was fascinating and it revealed that the police and newspapers were lying about nearly every death related to the issues Jo was trying to uncover.

I enjoyed These Shallow Graves, but it was disappointing at the same time. I would have preferred and slightly less naïve protagonist who could have made some better connections and realizations about the world she lived in. What is worse is that I could tell the author was trying to make points and throw in some comparisons, but she chose to make Jo as oblivious as possible to everything. It almost feels like she’s that way to keep things light and to keep this book as YA instead of just regular historical fiction. (Which is awful if that's the case because teens are smart enough to get a respectable Jo instead of naïve Jo.)

I do recommend it if you frequently read YA and aren’t a big mystery, horror, or historical fiction reader. For the mainstream YA fiction fans, I think this book delivers a compelling plot, a romance you can root for, and likeable characters.


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