Friday, April 1, 2016

Book Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Title: These Shallow Graves
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Series: N/A
Length: 488 pages
Published by: Random House Delacorte
Publication date: October 27th, 2015
Diversity: none confirmed (see review for more details)

I was pretty much guaranteed to like this book. It had so many things that I love to read about. Gilded Age New York? Check. Aspiring female reporter? Check. Historical insane asylums? Check. A mystery, particularly one that becomes increasingly complex but still manages to tie everything together at the end? Check and check. Even considering only the things I could see from the blurb, this book practically SCREAMS Clara! And I was not disappointed.

Firstly, I have to talk about the setting. The turn of the 20th century is one of my favorite times in American history, especially in New York. Jennifer Donnelly certainly did her research. This book makes New York come alive. I didn't expect so many aspects of the city and of the time to be explored, but I was pleasantly surprised. Even with all that, it never felt to me that the book was covering too much at the cost of its cohesiveness.

I also loved how complex the mystery was. Nothing is as straightforward as it appears to be. But at the same time, I never found myself struggling to keep track of what was going on or who knew what. This mystery also had an interesting mix of being predictable and completely surprising me. I saw most of the big reveals coming, sometimes as much as hundreds of pages in advance. But the way the smaller details came together surprised me, and it was these things that made the mystery truly spectacular.

On a related note, this book had absolutely no filler scenes, despite what its length might suggest. There are plenty of things that seem nice but unnecessary, and then they all come back later in very exciting and clever ways. I don't know whether this counts as vague foreshadowing or just connecting things really well, but I loved it either way.

Despite all this love, I do have a couple of bad things I need to say about this book. Firstly, I am so sick of love triangles, especially when the main character spends so much time dwelling on the situation. I understand how this one was (mostly) necessary, and how it emphasized a larger theme in the novel, but I was bored. Her choice was pretty obvious.

Secondly, for a book set in the heart of the American melting pot, this book had amazingly little confirmed diversity. This book addressed a lot of social issues, most of which had to deal with poverty, which was good (and very necessary, considering the setting). However, in terms of actual diversity, there were a few Yiddish words, which would imply a Jewish character or two...but that was about it. And it wouldn't exactly have been difficult to include a diverse character in a book with this setting.

Overall? This book was great. I didn't quite enjoy every second of it, but by the end, I was so invested in everything that was going on that I didn't put it down for the last hundred pages.

What kinds of books are you guaranteed to like? Any recommendations of books similar to this for me? Tell me in the comments! 


  1. triangles. haha I'm glad most of the book worked for you though. I'm really curious about this one, and the mystery!


    1. I'd definitely check this one out if you're interested in the mystery! And the love triangle didn't detract TOO much from the rest of the book.

  2. I kiiiind of want to read this one but I'm NOT so good at historical fiction. *hides* Have you read The Diviners?! I feel like that one is a really similar story to this? And OMG I'M SO SICK OF TRIANGLES TOO AGH. Like there are good ones out there! But mostly not and I just wish books would quit on them. XD 😂

    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

    1. I've read The Diviners! I liked both, but I thought that they were pretty different. They both have large casts of characters in New York, but The Diviners is creepy in a supernatural way and this one is only a little bit creepy in a who-can-you-trust way. And they both have love triangles, which I could DEFINITELY have done without. The good love triangles out there don't really make up for all of the unnecessary ones.