Sunday, June 19, 2016

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

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.

Rating: 2/5 stars

"The moment a girl learned how to talk, she was told not to."


So… once again I am the black sheep with a beloved book…


I don’t enjoy being one (even though I should probably be used to it by now) so my review is going to be short and to the point so I can shake this feeling off me.

These Shallow Graves was an ok read. I didn’t hate it or disliked it, I just thought it was fine. The length of the novel (500 freaking pages!) and the characters (mostly Jo) were what cemented the two-star rating.

Jo has always lived a sheltered life as a high-class socialite. Despite her dreams of becoming a journalist and her need to learn more of the world, she knows her future is certain; marry, have kids, and spend her life as a wife and mother. Or at least that’s the case until her father suddenly dies. Jo refuses to believe the police report that says he accidentally shot himself while cleaning the gun. Nothing adds up, her father was too careful and smart to clean a loaded gun, and what about the mysterious man looking at her from the streets? So as she begins to investigate with the help of rising reporter, Eddie Gallagher, she’ll discover that her family has secrets that might have gotten her father killed.


I’m a huge character person, always have been. They are the ones who carry the story for me, we see it all through their eyes, and in These Shallow Graves Jo simply wasn’t fleshed out enough to carry the plot. Despite her dreams of being a journalist and investigator, Jo was terribly clueless and naïve. It was something I could not understand, this contradiction; Jo was described as smart and curious, yet she had no idea of what prostitutes were (or that they even existed), how bad things were for poor people and that rich people could do bad things.

“’It’s not funny, Jo. You’re in one of the most dangerous places in the entire city.’

‘It’s not so bad,’ Jo said dismissively. ‘The people here are actually quite kind. While I was waiting for you, a man tried to give me all his money. Before that, a woman complimented my dress and invited me to her house. She said her friend Della would find me work.’”

Does this sound like an educated woman? Or like a painfully naïve individual that for some miraculous reason is pegged as brilliant?

She was presented as someone clever, someone who went beyond her way and investigated to write a story on the horrible working conditions for the girls at a factory nearby when that alone could have gotten her expelled. She studied books “unfit for ladies”, she asked her maid to buy her newspapers from the working class that weren’t all about marriages and socials, but that had stories of crime, economy and politics. How on Earth couldn’t this girl know about prostitutes? How couldn’t she care about the conditions on the working class when she had written an article about it?

The narration justified this sudden ignorance by explaining that, because of her upbringing, Jo could have no idea of these things. Nothing could be further away from the truth, women those times knew these things, they simply ignored them or used them for gossip. And even if that were the case, why was it that only Jo was clueless when she was supposed to be the bright one? All of her classmates and friends who were supposed to be shallow and demure, knew a great better deal of the real world than Jo did.

All these contradictions made Jo seem naïve and dumb, instead of clever and pro-active. If the author wanted to use this to show her character development, I could think of a hundred better ways that wouldn’t make Jo look dumb.

As the story carried on her character grew, but for me it was too little too late. She wasn’t as interesting as Fay, someone whose story I would have enjoyed much better. Fay was cunning, clever and decisive, everything I look for in a main character yet she was relegated to appear only now and then, a sidekick to Jo’s story.

The romance:

“She tried to look away, but couldn’t. his eyes were not only impossibly blue, but frank and amused. She felt that they could see inside her, that he could see her heart and its sudden, silly fluttering.[…]
Had she thought him handsome? He was glorious. He wore a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a tweed vest. His shoulders were broad and his forearms muscled. Thick, wavy brown hair curled over his ears and down the back of his neck.[…]”

This was the first time Jo saw Eddie, a reporter who decides to help Jo uncover the truth in exchange for writing the story and getting his dream job, and yeah… I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the insta-attraction. The problem with building relationships with these foundations is that they’ll hardly go anywhere. He’s hot, she’s hot but besides their interest in journalism they don’t share a significant connection.

I can see it from Jo’s side. She’s infatuated with him because not only is he handsome and dedicated to his work but he also treats her like a person, an equal, something she’s never experienced and desperately needs. But Eddie? What does he see in her besides the fact that she’s pretty? I don’t know, it was like the author wanted it to be romance so she just made him fall in love with her, even though it was very out of character for Eddie.

I liked how the relationship was about Jo finding someone who respected her, but again, she also had a wonderful relationship with Fay that was like that and it went completely ignored for the sake of romance and the dramatic love triangle.

The Plot:

I was expecting a great mystery (and also a horror story based on that cover doesn’t it look like horrible secrets are just waiting to be exposed with that arm crawling out?) and I found neither. The main mystery was predictable, the story carried a lot of twists and turns, but when you could predict it from the beginning, those things held no surprises. My biggest issue was the page count. I love long books, I really do and I get disappointed when I read a short story and keep wanting more, but These Shallow Graves was 500 pages long when a good 250 would have sufficed. Instead of using that extra word count to expand the story, the narration revolves around descriptions, Eddie and Jo’s relationship and the twists and turns of a foreseeable ending. 

I wanted to keep reading, I really did but I felt like I was going nowhere when I did. The same mistakes were made, characters came and went with little consequence. It was as if the story wanted to do so much at one, establish Jo and her romance with Eddie, show the unfairness of gender barriers at the time, the class system but it all meshes together and you’re left with some poverty, some unfairness and a lot of social comments about gender roles that sometimes made little sense when you compared it with what really happened at that time (like Jo and corsets, I won’t even start on that one).

There were some really great stuff about this book too, if you like historical fiction, discussion on gender roles and don’t mind the predictability of the mystery this could be a great book for you! It just wasn’t for me.

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