These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
Reviewed by Taylor Beach, Editor-in-Chief
If I possessed the power, I would make billions of stars in the night sky shower down around Jennifer Donnelly and her young adult novel These Shallow Graves instead of giving it a mere five-star rating. It deserves so much more praise than that. And rightly so.
It is hard to categorize These Shallow Graves into one specific genre because it has so many sub-genres within itself. It is YA historical fiction and romance (you can tell she did a lot of research because of her bibliography at the end) with a mystery thriller holding it all together in one beautifully stitched binding. There are exciting themes within the pages that an avid reader looks for in their quest to escape reality for a little while. Jennifer Donnelly captivates her readers with a tale of romance, lethal secrets, loss, murder, wealth, betrayal, and a sense of identity—one of the most important themes found within literature.
I fell into Jennifer Donnelly’s world in These Shallow Graves the way Alice plunged into the rabbit hole but instead of emerging in Wonderland, I found myself in Old Victorian New York. The author’s brilliant description and grasp of setting allowed me to picture what a marvelous grid New York City really is. It also helps that both front and back inside covers have a detailed map of the City of New York, its numerous street names labeled and displayed so we can trace Jo Montfort’s footsteps as she wanders through them in search for the truth of her father’s mysterious death and ultimately in search of herself.
A reader assumes Jennifer Donnelly is enchanted by the City of New York the way she passes her passion for the city onto us with every typed word on the page. She is charmed enough with the city to live and write in Hudson Valley full-time. In her acknowledgments Donnelly writes, “And lastly, thank you to New York City, for making a writer of Jo Montfort. And of me.” Underneath that she quotes Moss Hart—a talented playwright, actor, and theatre director born in 1900s New York City—in his reflections of all the city has to offer:
“The only credential the city asked was the boldness to dream. For those who did, it unlocked its gates and its treasures, not caring who they were or where they came from.”
That is certainly an inspiring quote for a person who creates art and searches for a place where they are welcomed to do just that. Especially writers creating literature—the art of words.
This novel was my substitute for food, sleep, and studying for finals. I was hooked from the first sentence but became obsessed with the book because of the last sentence of the first chapter: “You, on the other hand, wish to know things. And no one can forgive a girl for that.” This simple sentence of character development through dialogue is what made me instantly fall in love with Jennifer Donnelly’s main character, Jo Montfort, and the fact that we know right off the bat she will be a strong female lead and most importantly, cause trouble.
As readers, we love trouble.
The trouble Jo finds herself wrapped up in wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for her journalist mentality with her curiosity of why things are the way they are and if there is any way of changing them. Tsk, tsk. Upper-class ladies of Victorian New York are not meant to be poking their powdered noses in grisly matters, however Jo breaks her strict society’s gender expectations by roaming the streets at night with Eddie, a reporter at her father’s newspaper, in search of answers and the secrets she uncovers are hauntingly bone-chilling.
Proceed with caution, dear reader. These Shallow Graves is a very fast-paced read. I devoured the way Jennifer Donnelly would start a chapter in the present, then use flashbacks of an event that happened earlier, only to return to the present and have another piece of information revealed through a cliff-hanger. She’s the master of suspense who compels the reader to continue on to the next chapter to find out what happens next. This is how all-nighters happen; how reality offers nothing worthy of breaking our connection with our imagination and a good book.
I suggest you fill a cup of coffee, or two, for survival and set it next to you because you will be curled up on the couch with These Shallow Graves nestled in your lap all night long. Perhaps you will find yourself between the lines of this novel the way Jennifer Donnelly found the truly remarkable writer in herself. Unfortunately, the book will come to an end and you will have to return to reality but you will take the book with you—in loving memory.
Jennifer Donnelly has written three adult novels: The Tea Rose, The Winter Rose, and The Wild Rose. Three young adult novels: These Shallow Graves, Revolution, and The Northern Light (the historical novel she is best known for). She is also the author of the Waterfire Saga.
If you read These Shallow Graves and loved it like I did, I know you will love some of her other novels so I encourage you to read them! Purchase them at the closest book store or read them on your ebook. It doesn’t matter how you read, all that matters is that you read!
For more of Jennifer Donnelly, visit her website at jenniferdonnelly.com, follow her on Twitter @jenwritesbooks, and like her page on Facebook.
Keep a look out for news about Jennifer Donnelly from Delacorte Press™, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books™, and a division of Penguin Random House LLC™, New York.