Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo secretly dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.
Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.
The more Jo uncovers about her father’s death, the more her suspicions grow. There are too many secrets. And they all seem to be buried in plain sight. Then she meets Eddie—a young, brash, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. Only now it might be too late to stop.
The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and the truth is the dirtiest part of all. (goodreads.com)
Our first YAck of the year and we choose an historical thriller. Not a problem for me, especially since it’s set in New York at the end of the 19th century. What amused me even more was that the story starts at a finishing school called Miss Sparkwell’s in Farmington, Connecticut. AKA Miss Porter’s. So incredibly amused by that. Drove by that place daily. I even know where the mill is Jo talks about at the beginning. Crystal clear in my mind. So a pretty good start to the book.
As we get going, though, things get a bit . . . obtuse.
DRAGONDICKS (that’s YAck for SPOILER WARNING, it spawned from dildos shaped like dragons’ dicks, don’t ask, we’re grossly inappropriate, and because the search terms getting to my blog weren’t weird enough)
So, the WHO DID IT is incredibly obvious from the very beginning. I’m known to be rather oblivious to guessing these types of things when reading these types of books so the fact that I knew from page . . . like, 15 who it was is a bit disconcerting. And it only becomes increasingly more obvious as the story went on. Really, if you have two brain cells to rub together you’ll figure it out right quick.
With that being said it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the story. I really liked the voice and Jo was really a great character, if not being rather plot-devicinly obtuse every now and then. Donnelly played her torn personality rather well and really exhibited Jo’s pull between expectation and desire, complete with grave repercussions. Jo was rather dense when it served the plot to be so, if only so we could have a cute little moment when Eddie had to explain something less than savory. For all the reading Jo does I’m hard-pressed to believe she doesn’t know what a whore house is but it was totally cute to watch Eddie explain that one to a girl that doesn’t otherwise know what a dick is let alone where to put it. It was little things like that while were rather amusing it came across a bit forced.
And while I liked the relationship that developed between Jo and Eddie and ultimately where it ended, because it was realistic, I didn’t like Eddie’s reaction to Jo’s alleged “choice.” I don’t believe he fully understood just what Jo would be sacrificing in making such a gigantic decision and adversely, as a fellow YAck point out, Jo didn’t really understand what Eddie was sacrificing in helping her. So they really ended up balancing each other out.
As for the SECRET that this whole scheme was covering up, it’s obvious from the first passive mention of what the secret could possibly be that would render the whole conspiracy to murder. Sure, it’s a bad secret but it won’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what it is. So that just lends itself back to the whole plot being rather obvious.
What I really did like, though, was Donnelly’s depiction of old New York and just how stark the differences were between uptown and downtown. In reality, while the conditions are far better and a hint safer today, there really isn’t that much of a difference between then New York and today’s New York. The wealthy still live uptown and the poor are relegated to areas like the Alphabet, the Bowery, Chinatown. Same story, different decade. But she paints an incredibly vivid picture of just how bad it was in downtown New York, the squalor, the tumbledown buildings, the incredible vice, human trafficking. Again, while the facade may have improved I’m not sure that this stuff doesn’t exist anymore in that area. It reminded me a bit of Pete Hamill’s FOREVER just how realistic the descriptions were. From the sights to the smells and even to the touch, New York was another character on Donnelly’s novel and I could really appreciate that.
Jo and Eddie are pretty good characters. Aside from Jo’s contrived lapses into density she was a dynamic and vivid character that leapt off the page. Eddie was a gem from the beginning, probably one of the more realistic male characters I’ve ever seen in YA. He’s just so down to earth and retable and rational that I could hug him. He reacted the way you’d expect someone to react in his situation and it just brought joy to my heart.
So THESE SHALLOW GRAVES ended up being a bit of a wash for me. Overall enjoyable, with great characters and a three-dimensional setting but with a plot that’s largely predictable. The insistence on propriety for Jo became a bit overbearing and, at times, annoying, and Grandmama’s conversations about bitches and breeding could bear a drinking game. I think because the plot was so predictable that I’m not raving about this. It’s such a core part to the entire book (obviously) that to have a thriller end up being so obvious that it becomes a let-down. I want to love this book but it’s just too predictable. Almost weak. Everything else was so strong. But I just can’t give a predictable thriller a higher rating.