These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

TSG.jpgFrom Jennifer Donnelly, the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of A Northern Light and Revolution, comes a mystery about dark secrets, dirty truths, and the lengths to which people will go for love and revenge. For fans of Elizabeth George and Libba Bray, These Shallow Graves is the story of how much a young woman is willing to risk and lose in order to find the truth.

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 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 shot himself while cleaning his pistol. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was a partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo hears about her father’s death, the more something feels wrong. Suicide is the only logical explanation, and of course people have started talking, but Jo’s father would never have resorted to that. And then she meets Eddie—a young, smart, 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. But 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 this time the truth is the dirtiest part of all.*

Can I give this book more than 5 stars? No? Darn. Well, it’s got about a million stars in my view. My only complaints about this book are that it had to end and that there is no sequel (yet…I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed, and wishing on every shooting star, that there will be one eventually). The ending was great and many loose ends were tied up, but I love these characters too much for the story to stop where it did, when I still have so many questions about their futures.

There are so many wonderful things that I have to say about this book that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Since I’ve already mentioned the characters, let’s start there. All of the people in this book are so fleshed out, each given a backstory, secrets and desires that must be uncovered as the story moves along. I found myself in tears a number of times throughout the story, tears of frustration, sadness, and anger at what these people have to endure. I was sobbing by the end, especially because I finished the book after having met Jennifer Donnelly and heard her speak about her writing process at Teen Book Fest. The characters feel so real because in a way they are. Jennifer puts a lot of research into her works, she goes through the letters, diaries, photographs, and other mementos of real people from the past, placing pieces of these peoples’ lives into her stories. The frustration and the heartbreak I felt reading this story was amplified knowing that real people endured similar things, that these limitations placed particularly on the female characters were realities for women living barely 100 years ago. It made me so much more appreciative than I was of the freedoms that women in this country have today, and so much more saddened by the thought that not all women in the world today have these same freedoms.

The journey these characters went on left me on edge and riveted from the start. If it hadn’t been for a number of factors–finals week, trying to drag the book out as long as possible so I could savor every last detail–I probably could have devoured it all in a couple of days. The true story behind the crimes being investigated was impossible to guess until it was all revealed at the end. Though I kept screaming in my head at the characters to figure out what cargo the ship was holding, I had no idea the rest of the answers that were in store for them as they forged ahead with their probings. One thing I really loved about this tale is the fact that it was the female character who was leading everything. Jo Montfort was the one who suggested every dangerous, insane, bold move that helped her and Eddie Gallagher’s investigation along. Despite all of the reasons she had not to pursue justice, and despite the dangers involved, she never once wavered in her resolve. She forged ahead even when she was scared witless and if that’s not an inspiration to young girls reading this book, then I don’t know what is. Jo is a fantastic role model for women of all ages.

The manner the story was told in was very interesting as well and I enjoyed it a lot. The chapters often ended on notes of suspense and the next chapter would begin with a new scene. At first I thought what happened in between those two points in time would not be explained, as does often happen in books, but the third-person narrator would backtrack after a paragraph or two and recount in a flashback the interluding events. This method kept the suspense prolonged for a little while without sacrificing any part of the story.

I feel like this book should be required reading for all women with freedom today because it truly creates an appreciation for how things are now in comparison with how they used to be. While there is still a long way to go, I know, we have already come so far. This story is beautiful and heartbreaking and tragic and romantic and all around wonderful. I’m very much hoping for a sequel and am grateful to have met Jennifer Donnelly this past weekend. She is a poised, articulate woman and an inspiration.

*The cover image and synopsis are from Amazon.com. How gorgeous is the cover?!

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