BookMark: "These Shallow Graves" By Jennifer Donnelly

Jan 14, 2016

Reviewer Gabby Barone and the cover of "These Shallow Graves"

At the beginning of the book “These Shallow Graves,” Jo Montfort’s father is found dead. As a member of the Old Money, upper-class New York social scene, his sudden, unexplained death is uncommon. - Especially since Jo’s father was a successful businessman who, Jo believes, didn’t have any secrets to hide. But Jo quickly finds out that isn’t true.

Jo is an outspoken student at Miss Sparkwell’s School For Girls. She edits the school newspaper and is trying to become a journalist. After her father’s death, Jo is forced to return home. She becomes trapped in a yearlong period of mourning. She has to wear black and avoid dancing, social events, or accepting marriage proposals. Even from Bram Aldrich, the guy her family desperately wants her to marry, even if Jo isn’t so sure.

After the funeral, Jo’s mother shuts herself in her bedroom and mostly refuses to come out. Jo’s Uncle Philip - the only voice of reason she can find - throws himself into his work. This leaves 17-year-old Jo to help shut down her father’s companies. Every business needs to go, except for his newspaper, The Standard. While at the Standard offices, Jo is inadvertently drawn into a mystery when she overhears a conversation. Has her father’s gun gone off by accident, as they’ve been led to think, or has something else happened? Jo meets a junior reporter, Eddie, while at the offices. He introduces her to Oscar, a medical student who works at the coroner’s by night.  When she refuses to give up on discovering what really happened to her father, Eddie and Oscar help her investigate.

Jo finds a world she never knew existed, where children operate a pickpocketing ring and where her father and his business associates weren’t as upstanding as they seemed. It’s a world where a tattooed man is haunted by his lost love, rich young men visit houses of ill repute and where no one is safe. In the meantime, Jo and Eddie grow closer, tied together by a murder mystery and lack of free choice.  As Jo balances a double life while investigating her father’s death, she begins to see that the real price of knowledge might be her freedom.

“These Shallow Graves” is author Jennifer Donnelly’s third young adult novel.  Her character building is as solid as ever, but her writing is stilted by Jo’s upper class background. But it seems to be an intentional choice to reflect how little real life bothered its wealthy inhabitants. The scenes are well executed, and this time Donnelly’s famous love of research goes more into her plot and less into dialogue. Readers of her Tea Rose trilogy will notice similarities to scenes and situations. All in all, it’s a quick read with a strong plot, even if it’s written a bit differently than Donnelly’s previous novels.

“These Shallow Graves” is written by Jennifer Donnelly. It’s published by Delacorte Press. Donnelly is a New York Times best selling author and wrote the critically acclaimed Tea Rose trilogy.

Our reviewer, Gabby Barone, is a senior at State College High. She’s applied for college at Penn State, Brown and USC and hopes to major in journalism or medieval studies. This is her second contribution to BookMark.