REVIEW: These Shallow Graves

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Book Review: These Shallow Graves (Jennifer Donnelly)
 book cover Book title These Shallow Graves
Series/standalone Stand-alone
Author Jennifer Donnelly
Pages 488
Year published 2015
Category | Genre Young Adult | Historical | Mystery
Rating 3.5star

Official Summary

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.


In A Nutshell

These Shallow Graves is a rare blend of young adult fiction, historical, sleuthing, and romance about an upper class white girl who was trying to solve the mystery of her father’s death.


  • The feminism and female empowerment is strong with this one. The main character, Jo Monfort, tried to balance her curiosity about the world outside her upper class upbringing with being a good girl and doing her duty. What I really like about Donnelly’s book is that she managed to do this without getting overly preachy and ridiculing other girls of their choice to adhere to the social norm. There is also a scene of female friendship that might be my favorite scene of the book.
  • The balance between romance and mystery. Yes, there is a romance in this book, but it was not the main point of the story. To add to the point, the protagonist kept her wit about her despite her feelings – which is refreshing too see after reading countless stories where the protagonist simply lost all kind of rational thinkings due to angst or insta-love.
  • This is not a fairy tale. Often, I read books with great premise and characters that eventually fell short because the author cannot resist the temptation to solve all of their characters’ problems and give everyone a happy ever after. On the other side, there are those who go the extreme opposite way. These Shallow Graves fall somewhere in between the two extreme. I liked how Donnelly handled the story conclusion as it felt realistic, albeit rather convenient.

Things I Wish Were Different

  • It is too … white. I get that the main character is a white upper-class girl and all of her friends are too. And it is not to say that the cast is ALL upper-class white socialites. The book actually did quite well in term of socio-economic representation. It’s just that I wish for more diverse cast on a book sets in New York City. I honestly couldn’t recall one single important character that is not white.
  • The mystery part was not very well written. There were things so obvious thrown at our face that made it so clear that X is blablabla, yet the main character did not connect the two things and we have to spend hundreds of pages waiting for her to connect the dots. Then, there were other stuffs that were kept hidden from the readers then revealed as plot twist. To be honest, what kept me reading was not the mystery itself, rather it’s the character arc.

Final Score

3.5 stars (out of 5 stars)


Three and a half star for great character arc and good take on feminism theme. It could have been more with addition of more diverse cast and with better executed detective sleuthing.

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