Review: These Shallow Graves (Donnelly)

Somewhere in the world, pigs must be flying. Maybe there’s a snowball fight happening right now in hell. Because I have smashed my historical fiction reading record this year! I normally read one historical fiction title in a year, maybe. It’s only October, I’ve already read FOUR! Even more surprising is the fact that all four are among my favorites of 2015. Does this mean I don’t need to review another historical novel until 2019? Hmmm…

AUTHOR: Jennifer Donnelly
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: Random House Delacorte
ISBN: 9780385737654
PAGES: 496
SOURCE: NetGalley
GENRE: mystery, historical fiction
SETTING: New York City, 1900

SUMMARY: With the help of a young news reporter named Eddie, 17-year old Josephine Montfort investigates the suspicious circumstances following her father’s sudden suicide.

WHAT I LIKED: These Shallow Graves was a fun read that I recommend for any middle school or high school library. Middle school librarians are advised that there are many references to brothels and girls being forced into prostitution, but I personally would have no issue having this in my middle school library. The references to brothels are relatively clean and give a realistic view of the differences between the aristocratic few and the impoverished masses. Students will know what the brothels are, but no sex is described.

I loved the characters, particularly Josephine. Josephine’s character grew from naive and pampered to courageous and willing to do what it takes to find the truth. I love how she kept asking questions, despite pressure from her family and upper-class society to stop questioning everything. I also loved Eddie and his friend Oskar, the medical student aspiring to work in forensic science. I love the New York City setting, especially during this exciting time in history. Oh, and Grandmama was just a trip! Loved her character and all the discussions of spaniels. Too funny.

Loved the ending!

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: Well, I figured out the mystery pretty quickly, and I think don’t think too many readers will be surprised when the murders are finally solved. It took 496 pages to get there, but the romance between Eddie and Jo (as well as Grandmama’s antics!) kept me interested. Even though I became bored with the mystery, I had a hard time putting the book down in the last 200 pages.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended for high school. Recommended with caution (brothels) for middle school. Though the murder mystery is easy to solve, the characters, setting, and romance help move things along.

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: On order. I can definitely get this one moving with my mystery readers.

READALIKES: Revolution (Donnelly)


  • Overall: 4/5
  • Creativity: 4/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Engrossing: 4/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Appeal to teens: 3/5–496 pages appeals only to the strongest readers
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 3/5–again, 496 pages is a lot for this story


  • Language: mild; a couple of sh**; multiple damns
  • Sexuality: mild; brothels are large part of story; mild kisses; mild innuendo
  • Violence: mild; autopsies described with some detail; several murders
  • Drugs/Alcohol: 1 reference to champagne; 1 reference to beer

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