There seems to be an on-going theme based on the entertainment I’ve chosen to partake in the past week. After seeing Suffragette, Brooklyn, and now finishing These Shallow Graves, I’ve received immense and meaningful enjoyment from stories about young women breaking out and making something of their lives. Each of these are different stories with different characters from different backgrounds, but their journeys and paths to self-discovery and ultimately liberation are incredibly moving in the same way. These Shallow Graves, the latest historical young adult novel from Jennifer Donnelly, beautifully tells a story about a girl who aspires to be more than what is expected from her, and of all things, it’s a murder mystery that leads her on a path to freedom.
Set during the Gilded Age in New York City, we meet the personable Jo Montfort, a rich, beautiful girl from high society’s best family. Jo is meant to make a good marriage match, be a good wife and have children. That’s her future, but she wants more. Inspired by investigative journalists like Nellie Bly, Jo wants to uncover the darkest parts of the world and use her own writing skills to tell stories that people should be less ignorant about, and unfortunately, it’s considered completely unsuitable for a young woman like her to be a journalist.
However, when Jo’s father dies under mysterious circumstances, Jo can’t help but look further into the cause of his death. Launching her own secret investigation, she teams up with a scrappy and handsome young reporter, Eddie Gallagher. As Eddie and Jo get closer to discovering the truth, Jo must deal with her new feelings for Eddie and her impending future as a heiress.
The story is a bit on the predictable side, but what truly makes the novel riveting are the well developed characters and richly detailed and atmospheric setting of 19th century New York City. The mystery of Jo’s father’s death is merely a device to see Jo grow out of her sheltered life and learn more about herself. It allows her to see what a life of freedom is like at a time when women were so oppressed.
While the twists and turns of the mystery take the characters to new and different places, that’s not the heart of the novel. It’s Jo’s journey and personal growth that is the most rewarding aspect of These Shallow Graves. I loved how personable, smart and determined she is. (You root for her from the very first page.) The romance is simple but very passionate. The tender, honest moments that Jo and Eddie share pull at the heartstrings.
While the mystery and romance take up most of the novel, the deeply empowering sentiment of women’s rights and freedoms is on every page. Jo and the other women’s struggles resonate with me. As a consequence, I find myself ever more determined to take advantage of my freedoms and continue going after my goals.
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly is now available in stores.