These Shallow Graves

24187925

Rating: 5/5 stars

Review: I’ve loved Jennifer Donnelly ever since I read Revolution, a book about the French Revolution which has impacted me much more than I expected. When I saw the cover for These Shallow Graves, I admit I felt a little disappointed. It’s a beautiful cover, but I pegged it as less artistic and deep than the covers of her previous novels. To me, the cover makes the book out to be another paranormal thriller type of story, likely featuring vampires. But that’s not Jennifer Donnelly. And that’s not what this book is like.

Set in the 1890s, These Shallow Graves follows Jo Montfort, a young lady who dreams about escaping her duties as an upper-class woman and becoming a reporter like her hero Nellie Bly. When her father dies under mysterious circumstances, she winds up working with Eddie Gallagher, an ambitious young reporter, to try to uncover the truth.

At first, I didn’t buy it. The plot felt predictable and Jo Montfort felt like a familiar character–the typical headstrong young woman stuck in the cage of the upper class.

But then Donnelly threw Eddie Gallagher in the picture, and with him came a slew of unusual characters that brought out a different side of Jo. While I knew the main plot twist from nearly the start of the book, a number of other twists managed to surprise me. Donnelly also managed to capture late nineteenth-century New York in all its depth without overloading me with information. I was a little nervous when I reached the final chapters, as I did not know how the book would end, but that just proves the novel kept me on my toes.

As always, Donnelly understands just how to end things. She doesn’t indulge her readers, but she provides enough information to drive home the meaning of the text and lets the readers guess what happens next.

Recommendation: This novel hits all the right notes. Fans of Donnelly’s previous work should definitely read this one. Anyone interested in catching a glimpse of America in the late 1800s will not be disappointed, either. I think Donnelly is the perfect solution for YA readers who want more than love triangles and shallow messages. I promise this book will both keep such readers enraptured while taking them below surface-level fiction.

Bone Gap

18806240

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Review: Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap is hard to define. It has a touch of magical realism, which I certainly appreciated, along with some fairy tale, coming of age, and feminist elements, but it has enough of a realistic fiction feel that it’s difficult to categorize, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much (remember my review of a similarly difficult to categorize book).

In the book, Finn O’Sullivan, a quirky teen, tries to find the captor of Roza, a mysterious girl Finn and his older brother Sean took under their wing a while back. The catch? Finn can’t remember the captor’s face, leading the people of Bone Gap to dismiss what he saw as delusional. It’s a book of love, true beauty, and perseverance in the face of obstacles.

While I felt like the plot was hard to keep up with at times, I was able to push past my confusion and enjoy the characters and themes. Ruby has some fantastic feminist characters, and keeps them in touch with real problems like the harm of societal expectations of beauty and sexual harassment. She also tackles other large problems like mental disorders, parental abandonment, and the struggle of living in a small town.

Ruby’s novel performs well on a line-by-line basis, too. The constant referrals to the absurdity of college application essay prompts are humorous and, later on, heartbreaking. More than that, they keep the book relevant to its target audience.

The main flaw in this book is the lack of explanation for certain central problems, but I think that’s always an issue for books with more magical realist qualities. Readers should go into this novel prepared to go along with certain ideas without questioning them.

Recommendation: Those who dislike magical realism should stay away from this book. Teens aged 14 and up would probably appreciate Bone Gap most. There are possible triggers in the chapters covering Roza’s time in college, but Ruby is not graphic. Fans of Magonia will likely enjoy this read (and vice versa).