on Oct. 27, 2015
Jo Montfort from “These Shallow Graves” by Jennifer Donnelly
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.
Who Is She? Jo Montfort is the privileged daughter of a prominent and wealthy New York businessman. At finishing school she writes for the school paper where she’s trying to be like her hero, Nelly Bly, by pushing against the strict boundaries to include stories about factory girls and hunger and ladies of the night that have been deemed too gritty for the girls. Her world is upended when her father dies and she returns to New York.
Why Is She Awesome? Even though she lives in a golden cage in the Gilded Age Jo takes care of business. Jo’s father has died, but she just can’t believe that it was suicide. Jo wants to know the truth for herself. So she investigates. It’s refreshing that Jo isn’t given an invitation to completely flout the social norms of her day—even a progressive 19th Century girl wouldn’t suddenly become a 21st Century girl overnight. Instead, Jo carefully conceals her identity and is able to work around her restrictions while still keeping her reputation and her morals—vital in her day. She uses brains, courage and a steely resolve that comes from the ironclad rules of her upbringing to solve her mystery.
Whom Does She Love? Jo loves her dad. Her investigation is a heroic tribute to that relationship. She also loves her second-father of an uncle who she turns to for advice, support and validation. She loves Fay, the pickpocket, the soon to be prostitute, the first girl Jo has felt was a true friend. And Jo loves the ungentlemanly Eddie Gallagher, an investigative reporter who works for the paper her family owns. Theirs is an honest romance that you root for but it doesn’t overwhelm the excellent mystery or Jo’s push for her personal liberty.
“We who have means and a voice must use them to help those who have neither…and how can we know about them if no one writes about them?”