Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Character Spotlight: Jo Montfort from These Shallow Graves

In honor of publication day for These Shallow Graves, I am doing a Character Spotlight on the main character Jo Montfort. I absolutely loved this book and if you'd like to read my review, check it out here.

Josephine "Jo" Montfort
These Shallow Graves
Jennifer Donnelly

Josephine Montfort lives in New York in the late 1800s, a member of the elite upper class.  Her life has been planned out for her--a life of ease, married to the most eligible bachelor, and having babies.  When Jo's father dies unexpectedly in an accident, she isn't able to accept that it was a freak accident and decides to challenge what she's been told.  With the help of Eddie, a young reporter who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, Jo begins to peel away the layers of her perfect life and discover the truth behind her father's death.

Jo is torn throughout most of the novel.  She's independent, interested in journalism, and wants to change the world.  When we first meet her she has written an article exposing the life of the girls who work in a factory close to her school and is planning a way to publish it in her school paper.  She has read Nellie Bly's expose of the treatment of the mentally ill and Jo has taken this to heart.  Despite Jo’s upbringing in an elitist society that focuses on where a person’s money comes from and who their ancestors are, Jo understands that there are injustices in her world that people should know about.  She knows that everyone has a story and she wants to tell the stories of girls working in factories, orphans who are dependent on a life of crime, and girls who are sold to madames to work in brothels. This is what she wants to do, but it's also something that is impossible for her to do.

Ladies of her station do not write for papers, and she is meant to marry into one of the richest and most prestigious families, a mirror of her own.  It's what's expected and despite what Jo wants, she wants her family to be happy as well. Because Jo cares deeply for her family.  We see this struggle throughout the story.  Right away, when Jo's father is dead, she knows it wasn't an accident.  There is no way her father would have accidently shot himself while cleaning his gun, however she can't voice this opinion because she should not have an opinion.  She has to look for the truth in secret and with the help of Eddie, a reporter for the paper her family owns. With her father dead, Jo can’t bring any more hardship on her mother.  She’s concerned about her uncle who was so close to her father and must figure out the best way to reveal to him what she’s learned.  

As Jo embarks on her journey, her world and the part of New York she is not supposed to know are set up against one another.  She sneaks out at night to visit Eddie.  They go to houses of ill repute, break into buildings, sneak around the wharf in the dead of night, befriend criminals.  When she comes home, she attends teas and church and other events that are befitting of a young girl in mourning while her mother plans out how they will ensure Bram Aldrich asks for her hand in marriage. Jo longs for the excitement of Eddie's world, and even more the freedom to make her own choices and make a real difference.  To do that means breaking her family's hearts, and she's not sure if she has that in her.

Jo is clueless at times and this is what makes her so annoying.  She has good intentions, but she’s still very focuses on herself and how all of this will affect her--not others who aren’t a part of her inner circle.  Eddie is often snapping at her for saying something rude and demeaning before Jo realizes how awful it is that she said it.  She tries to give advice to a girl her age who is about to be sold to a madame, but she has no idea what kind of life this girl lives.  This is where I found myself rolling my eyes at her and screaming, “You idiot!” Jo is in no way perfect, but she’s trying.  She just has to make a choice between finding out the truth and keeping herself and her family out of the spotlight.

Image Source: Goodreads

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