I have been a fan of Jennufer Donnelly since 2003 when I read her fantastic Young Adult novel, A Northern Light. It is based on a real-life murder of a young woman by her fiance in 1906. This same murder was also written about in An American Tragedy by Theodor Dreiser and in the movie A Place in the Sun starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Cliff. I also love her adult Tea Rose Series. She writes books for children, too. Jennifer Donnelly is one of those remarkable authors who can write for all ages. Her newest teen book, These Shallow Graves is another great book.
In 1890 Jo (Josephine} Montfort is a student at Miss Sparkwell’s School for Young Ladies. Like all wealthy women, Jo is expected to finish school and marry a wealthy young bachelor. Her family has Bram Aldrich, a likable and very wealthy bachelor picked out for her. However, Jo doesn’t want to get married right away. She wants to be a newspaper reporter and investigate social injustices like her idol, Nellie Bly. Her father, Charles Montfort, owns a newspaper and a shipping line and is one of the wealthiest men in New York City. Jo’s life is suddenly turned upside down when she receives word that her father has died and she leaves school to go home. They said that he accidentally killed himself while cleaning his gun. Jo doesn\’t believes this and then overhears talk that he committed suicide. This can’t be true, either. Soon she is partnering with Eddie Gallagher, a handsome but poor newspaper reporter who works at her father\’s paper, to uncover the truth about his death.
Jo is practically engaged to Bram but it is the unsuitable Eddie who makes her heart race. Bribing her maid to help her, Jo begins sneaking out of the house at night, with Eddie, searching for answers. Eddie thinks that he will get the scoop of a lifetime but Jo just wants the truth about her father’s death. Soon they are investigating the dangerous slums and docks of New York City and a naive Jo has her eyes opened about life and her family’s own dark secrets. But sometimes secrets are better off staying buried and readers will be anxious to see how much she is willing to risk and lose in order to learn the truth.
Jo is a smart, strong, female character who is straining against the constants of her wealthy, controlled life. This is a fast paced mystery/thriller with an atmospheric setting, great period detail, a love triangle and great characters, both good and evil.
Young Adult/Teen Fiction- Recommended for grades 9-up