Finally Friday is a meme started by me (Jessica, aka @coffeelvnmom) and J from @life_love_fandoms. This week's I-finally-read-this-Waiting-on-Wednesday-book is: THESE SHALLOW GRAVES.
You, on the other hand, wish to know things. And no one can forgive a girl for that.
Ms. Donnelly has done it again. She’s found a way to tell a story, teach the history behind the setting, and pull you along for the ride whilst throwing in great measures of romance, betrayal, comedy, friendship, and of course, quite the mystery.
Josephine Montfort is a victim of the social elite in New York in the 1890s. I say “victim” because any woman or young lady living in that timeframe had little to no control of what she was able to do. Example one: the grandmother of her soon-to-be betrothed literally refers to the youngin’s as dogs, and speaks of breeding them to keep good bloodlines (and their money in the family, too), more than once. Example two: at one point, Jo recalls her mother telling her (paraphrased): “There are only three times you may be in the paper. Once when you’re born, once when you’re married, and once when you die.” Anything else, any other reason to be put in the paper, in that day and age, meant you must have done something scandalous (or why would they do a report about it?). Walking somewhere, alone? Scandalous. Meeting with someone not of the same social class in public? Scandalous. Not wearing the proper black dresses for months after a death in the family? Scandalous. Socializing after a death in the family? Scandalous. Coming up to a group at a social gathering when there is no chair left for you to sit in? Scandalous. Not accepting the proposal of THE biggest family at the time? SCAN-DAL-OUS.
And yet, the more Jo learns of what’s really been going on and starts to question everything she thought she knew about her father and his business, the more she becomes that scandalous character. Not that she openly talks about it until quite far into the book (she does have to sneak around for quite a while, first--oh the lies that lady tells!), but the fact that she is so under the wings of the way they do things (never having shown someone to the door before, because that’s what the butler usually does? UM.) shows how little was expected of women during that era, and how little they were allowed to do on their own.
Speaking of era, the entire premise of TSG is based on (and revolves around) the way it was in the late 1800s. Though Jo knows something’s not right when her father dies, the mere act of speaking this out and telling someone is a huge problem. She befriends people who, to the “normal” people of their town, aren’t that big of a deal, but in family/upper town politics would cause all hell to break loose if it was found out they were ever socializing. This creates an ongoing tension that really does make a difference as the story goes on.
One thing about TSG, however: Jo is naive. She’s quite bright, intellectually, but at the same time, due to the life she was given, incredibly clueless. She doesn’t know what many things are, because everything is considered below them, "unspeakables" for women, or too difficult for her lady mind to understand. (Not that those are a problem for Jo, but this was how things were seen during that timeframe. If you’re a woman, opinions aren’t allowed, nor expected. Neither is thinking. Women “watch and wait”. As Ms. Marino so deftly puts it in the letter to the reader at the beginning of the advanced readers copy, "Boys could be and do anything; girls had rules to follow.")
These Shallow Graves was different from A Northern Light and Revolution, but entertaining and educational to the timeframe just the same. It also has a few twists and turns that will surprise you and keep you rooting for not just Jo, but many of the characters!
If you are in the mood for historical mystery and romance, but don’t want to read about the lack of freedom women had in the latter part of the 19th century, do not read These Shallow Graves. But if learning is your forte, and you enjoy Ms. Donnelly’s YA, or if you’ve never read her work and would like to sleuth right along with Jo (and learn some cool coroner stuff and history), this book’ll be right up your alley.