Jo (Josephine) Montfort wants to do more, be more, than her privileged life will allow. She would love to be an investigative journalist, just like her hero, Nellie Bly, and is inspired by Nellie’s quest for the truth, whatever it takes (and yes, Nellie is actually a real woman who forged the way for female journalists in extraordinary style starting in the 1880s - google her and learn what she did).
Unfortunately, Jo is stifled by expectations for her day-to-day behaviour, her marriage prospects, and her future. In New York in 1890, well-bred young ladies from well-to-do families do not do anything except get married and have babies, something she hears regularly from all quarters in no uncertain terms. Her family and friends all expect her to soon be engaged to Bram Aldrich, and although he’s a good friend, seventeen-year-old Jo isn’t sure that he’s what, or who, she wants.
When her father dies, Jo is certain it wasn’t an accident and sets out to uncover the truth. Her search begins with clues discovered in his study: a series of mysteriously scheduled meetings, unknown names, and one thousand dollars cash. Then there’s what seems to be a connection to the shipping company her father and uncle are partners in.
Jo is aided by Eddie Gallagher, a brash, determined, and handsome young reporter at The Standard, a newspaper owned by her father. Jo’s relationship with Eddie doesn’t get off to the best of starts and as she covertly traipses around the city, and meets people like the rough Fay and bluntly honest Oscar, she is confronted with the reality of life outside what she knows: slums, prostitution, violence, the morgue, and worse.
What with an increasing number of secret expeditions, threats of violence, and a burgeoning romance, Jo’s life becomes quite complicated and dangerous. Is it possible for Jo to find the answers to her questions and solve the mystery? And will she be able to choose between the security of the known, and the freedom of the unknown?
There are twists and turns and clues to the mystery along the way if you know what you’re looking for, but the conclusion is still a surprise - to the reader and to Jo Montfort.
I love the way Jennifer Donnelly weaves detailed, complex stories filled with a cast of colourful characters you care about. Grab a copy of These Shallow Graves and settle in for the ride. It’s close to 500 pages, but well worth the time, and besides which you’ll find yourself pulled into the mystery and want to know what happens as soon as possible.
Title: These Shallow Graves
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Publisher: Hot Key Books, $19.95 RRP
Publication Date: November 2015
For ages: 13+
Type: Young Adult Fiction