These Shallow Graves

These Shallow Graves
Written by Jennifer Donnelly

Publisher’s Summary:
Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon–like all the girls in her class–she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo dreams of becoming a writer–a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort shot himself while cleaning his pistol. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was a partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo hears about her father’s death, the more something feels wrong. Suicide is the only logical explanation, and of course people have started talking, but Jo’s father would never have resorted to that. And then she meets Eddie–a young, smart, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper–and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. But now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and this time the truth is the dirtiest part of all.

Primary Source Pairing:
Defying social norms and bordering on legality, Josephine Montfort is on the search to find answers about her father’s death. It’s hard to imagine the social restrictions young women of upper-class New York faced in the 1890s. Jo’s galavanting around town threatened her prospects, but she continued on. In this historical fiction novel, Jo admires the work of a real-life rogue woman journalist named Nellie Bly who went to great lengths to get a good story, including spending 10 days in an insane asylum. For this primary source pairing, invite students to study a photograph of Nellie Bly from 1890. Check out the Bibliography at the back of the book for additional resources.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • What, if any, words do you see?
  • What other details can you see?
  • Who do you think was the audience for this image?
  • What tools were used to create this?
  • What can you learn from examining this image?
  • If someone made this today, what would be different? What would be the same?
  • How does your visualization of Jo Montfort compare to the primary source image of Nellie Bly? What is the same? What is different?

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Nellie Bly Photograph: Library of Congress