BOOK REPORT for These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly 

Cover Story: Pretty Grave
BFF Charm: Big Sister
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: Old-Fashioned
Bonus Factors: Feminism, Mystery
Relationship Status: Whirlwind Romance


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Cover Story: Pretty Grave

Given that this is neither a ghost story nor a zombie book, I might have gone a different direction with the artwork, but overall, this cover ain't too shabby. And note to whoever orders my tombstone: I want that typeface!

The Deal:

It's hard to find a girl in 1890 who appears luckier than Jo Montfort. She's a member of one of New York's most respectable (and richest) families, she's a total beauty and she's set to be engaged to Bram Aldrich, a long-time friend and a major catch. But Jo nurses a secret passion to do more than be a society wife—she longs to become a reporter, exposing injustice and discovering the truth.

Her wish is granted in the worst possible way after her father dies under mysterious circumstances. Ruled a suicide, his death leads Jo on an investigation into the depths of her family's past and into the arms of Eddie Gallagher, a handsome reporter who guides her through the seedy underbelly of the city. Her search for answers only leads to more questions, and as she digs deeper, Jo realizes that she's not just risking her social status or her engagement—she's risking her life.

BFF Charm: Big Sister

I'm not sure if Jo's name is a nod to that fiery and spirited March sister in Little Women, but she certainly shares some of her admirable qualities. She's determined and courageous, but due to her sheltered upbringing, she's also incredibly naive. Mixed together, these attributes were endearing in some moments and exasperating in others. Let's just say there were definitely times when I wanted to sit her impulsive ass down and tell her to COOL IT.

Fortunately for Jo, she receives some of that much-needed sisterly advice from Fay, a street urchin who totally gets a bonus BFF charm for me. Fay is sharp as a tack and insanely tough, and she dishes out wisdom like this: 

"This is the best thing, Jo. The city stretched before you, glittering like a sack of diamonds. Yours for the taking. A drink and a smoke and no one to please but yourself. Freedom. That's my answer. The freedom to be your own best thing."


Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Hot, cocky, and adventurous, Eddie is a real breath of fresh air compared to the society crowd, and he and Jo have a meet-cute that results in a lovely amount of enemistry before emotions between them begin to deepen. Their romance elicits a few tingles, but then things get complicated in a way that feels cheap and manufactured, leaving me a little pissed at both Jo and her author.

Talky Talk: Old-Fashioned

It's been a while since I read some historical fiction, and I relished Jennifer Donnelly's use of 1890s vernacular. Careful not to abuse slang, she paints a vivid picture of the time period that enriches the narrative and provides a dynamic backdrop for the mystery that unfolds. I relished the details of Jo's lifestyle (maids! dresses! fancy balls!) as much as the scoops she uncovers in dive bars and city morgues, and although the climax falls a little flat, on the whole Donnelly serves up a satisfying tale of buried secrets and forbidden love.

Bonus Factor: Feminism

Why is it, she wondered now, that boys get to do things and be things, and girls only get to watch?

She might not know it, but Jo is a feminist, through and through. I relished her desire for independence and her questioning mind (even if the message was a little heavy-handed at times), and it was great to read about a girl fighting to be more than what the world expects.

Bonus Factor: Mystery

I heart a good mystery, especially one set in the late-Victorian era. (Thanks to Mr. Holmes, of course.) Though I figured out the killer's identity pretty early into the book, I still savored all of the shady characters and cryptic clues that made up the murky web surrounding the death of Jo's father. 

Casting Call

Kaya Scodelario as Jo

Liam Hemsworth as Eddie

Relationship Status: Whirlwind Romance

Book, you sure know how to show a girl good time. You swept me off my feet into another world, and while some of your surprises didn't really surprise me, I dug the intrigue and adventure of your company. We may not have a future together, but I certainly enjoyed living in your past.

These Shallow Graves is available now.