Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly 
Released: 27th October 2015
Published by: Hot Key Books
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Pages: 496
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
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. Josephine Montfort is from one of New York's oldest, most respected, and wealthiest families. Like most well-off girls of the Gilded Age, her future looks set - after a finishing school education, she will be favourably married off to a handsome gentleman, after which she'll want for nothing.

But Jo has other dreams and desires that make her long for a very different kind of future. She wants a more meaningful and exciting life: she wants to be an investigative journalist like her heroine Nellie Bly. But when Jo's father is found dead in his study after an alleged accident, her life becomes far more exciting than even Jo would wish. Unable to accept that her father could have been so careless, she begins to investigate his death with the help of a young reporter, Eddie Gallagher. It quickly becomes clear he was murdered, and in their race against time to discover the culprit and his motive, Jo and Eddie find themselves not only battling dark characters on the violent and gritty streets of New York, but also their growing feelings for each other.
Thank you to the Five Mile Press  for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

These Shallow Graves is the first book I've read from Jennifer Donnelly, and quite a good one at that. This is certainly a YA historical fiction novel with a rich depiction of New York in its gilded age, a 'whodunnit' plot that keeps you guessing and insight into the social mores of the time. While it wasn't perfect for me, I can't deny that the book definitely took some turns I wasn't expecting, and had a cast of well-developed characters who each had their own reasons for us readers to want to know more about them. 

Jo is the type of female heroine who I wanted to spur on and receive the justice and closure she deserved following her father's death. With the question of a suicide or murder on the table, she was forced to delve into what his life truly entailed - and new secrets emerged. Above all, it was fantastic to see an empowered young woman who was headstrong and refused to conform to society's expectations. For example, she didn't want a marriage that was set up merely as a 'business transaction', but something real based on true emotion. At a time when young ladies were meant to be the image of a demure and subservient future wife, she was sneaking out and going to morgues in an effort to solve the enigma surrounding a possible murder. It's this combination of sleuthing and courage that makes Jo a relatable character. While the budding romance was at times frustrating to read, in the end I was surprised at how things turned out - but it all did seem fitting. This is certainly a book where you should leave any preconceived expectations at the door - because it isn't a predictable one. 

The one thing that did let the book down for me a little was the length. Normally this isn't really an issue for me, but the plot did feel like it dragged in places and not much was actually happening. There is bound to be some lulls in the plot when the characters are actually in the process of piecing the puzzle together, but I did wish that there was more action throughout. Despite this however, I definitely wasn't bored reading this, and sure enough by the end I was eager to see how the conclusion would wrap up. 

Final Thoughts

These Shallow Graves is an enjoyable novel with a fast-witted protagonist who (mostly) knows what she wants. It allows for a vivid depiction of New York in Victorian times - from both the heights of opulence to the dangers lurking beneath the surface. 


  1. Oh, I have this one on my Kindle, but I STILL haven't read it. Honestly, I had forgotten what it was even about until I read this review. I just bought it because of the hype. :) This review did make me a bit more excited to dig into it. Great review1

    1. Thanks Cynthia :) Hope you do get to reading it, it is a great historical thriller!


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