These Shallow Graves
These Shallow Graves tells the tale of Jo Montfort, a New York socialite attending Miss Sparkwell’s School for Young Ladies. She is the editor of the school newspaper, the Jonquil, which typically covers riveting, groundbreaking topics such as the proper way to brew tea and advice on how to fade freckles. Jo is determined to upgrade the quality of this fine periodical though, and she begins by including articles about issues like the abuse of girl laborers in local textile mills. But before the school can whip up a detention for such dissension, Jo winds up leaving the institution under truly sobering circumstances; her father has died as a result of a tragic accident that occurred while cleaning a gun.
Jo’s carefully planned out life is completely shattered by this event. Her pending engagement to Abraham “Bram” Aldridge, one of her oldest friends, is put on hold as her mourning period begins. She is kept home from school and it is unlikely she will ever return. Her days are spent glumly wandering the house as her mother mourns (as all book widows do) by elegantly becoming bedridden. Jo is being driven to distraction by grief and boredom when her uncle comes up with some errands to get her out of the house. It is when she is delivering a bequest to the Standard, the newspaper her father owned, that yet another blow is delivered. For it is there that she overhears cub reporter Eddie Gallagher speak the unspeakable: her father’s death had not been an accident but a suicide covered up by her family’s money. Infuriated, frustrated and frightened, Jo begins to do a bit of sleuthing of her own to prove her father’s innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt but her research uncovers something truly sinister instead.
Donnelly’s novel is both a story of the struggle of the early years of women in journalism and a harsh coming of age tale. Jo learns, as eventually we all do, that our parents are not paragons but people with pasts that we sometimes wish they’d kept buried. That doesn’t change the fact that she truly believes in the work journalists ultimately do – revealing truths, bringing injustice to the attention of the masses, and hopefully, getting society on the proper path to righting wrongs. Even though getting the story does damage to her own life, she ultimately feels the truth is more valuable than an elegant façade.