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Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Tense, Atmospheric Gilded Age Mystery One of My Favorite Reads So Far This Year

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"If you're going to bury the past, bury it deep, girl.  Shallow graves always give up their dead" (187).

Jo Montfort is an atypical girl living an average life—at least for a wealthy society girl in the Gilded Age.  The 17-year-old is beautiful, cultured, and expected to marry a man whose blood is as blue as her own.  Although she's practically engaged to her best childhood friend, Bram Aldrich is a man who "inspired admiration rather than passion" (103).  Jo knows she would have a comfortable, happy life with him.  Still, she longs for excitement, for freedom, for something more than the banality of endless tea parties, balls, and child rearing.  She yearns to be a reporter, to make a difference like her hero, Nellie Bly.  Of course, such desires are entirely inappropriate for a well-bred woman.  Jo will never voice them; instead, she'll wed Bram, bear his children, and settle into married life with grace, just like every other young woman with whom she associates.

Then, Jo's world shatters utterly and irrevocably.  Her beloved father, the successful owner of several prominent New York businesses, accidentally shoots himself while cleaning his gun.  When Jo overhears Eddie Gallagher, a dashing young reporter, call it suicide, she's outraged.  Charles Montfort would never do such a thing!  Jo begs the handsome newspaperman to help her find the truth about her father's death, never suspecting just how big of a mess she's getting herself into.  To find out what really happened, she'll have to cavort with the city's seediest residents, combing its slimy underbelly for clues no one wants unearthed.  Being spotted in public without a chaperone, let alone with a low-class reporter (or worse) could mean the permanent ruin of Jo's reputation.  And yet, she can't help herself.  She must clear her father's good name—because no matter what, no matter what she finds, she has to believe he still has one.  Jo can't be wrong, she just can't.

The closer Jo and Eddie come to finding the truth, the riskier their partnership becomes.  Not only are their movements being tracked by goons with murderous intentions, but the damning eyes of society are always on them.  As Jo's own eyes are opened to the realities of life outside (and inside) her gleaming world, she begins to understand what she really wants and— most dangerous of all—what she doesn't.

Can Jo uncover the truth about her father's death?  Was it really an accident?  Suicide?  Or murder?  And after her Nellie Bly-ish pursuits, can she return to her gilded life?  Will she ever be the same again?

There's so much to love about These Shallow Graves, Jennifer Donnelly's newest YA novel.  Tense, atmospheric, and compelling, it's a page turner that will leave you breathless.  I literally (yes, literally) could not put it down.  Jo is a brave, sympathetic heroine, one whose ignorance and subsequent awakening feels realistic.  The minor characters are likewise complex, making the whole cast intriguing.  While I did guess some of the story's turns, several of the twists caught me by surprise.  All of these elements combined to make a thoroughly enjoyable novel, one of my favorite reads of the year so far.  Trust me, you don't want to miss this one.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, sexual innuendo, and disturbing subject matter (prostitution, domestic violence, drug/alcohol abuse, poverty, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
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Reading

<i>Reading</i>
Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

Listening

<i>Listening</i>
The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain



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