Author: Laura Moriarty
Published: Riverhead Hardcover; June 2012
Genre: Historical fiction
Synopsis: Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever.
For Cora, the city holds the promise of discovery that might answer the question at the core of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in this strange and bustling place she embarks on a mission of her own. And while what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of Cora’s relationship with Louise, her eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.
Drawing on the rich history of the 1920s,’30s, and beyond--from the orphan trains to Prohibition, flappers, and the onset of the Great Depression to the burgeoning movement for equal rights and new opportunities for women--Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone illustrates how rapidly everything, from fashion and hemlines to values and attitudes, was changing at this time and what a vast difference it all made for Louise Brooks, Cora Carlisle, and others like them.
My Take: In my pre-blogging days I had read The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty and LOVED it. I totally connected with the characters and wanted to keep reading and cheering for them long after the story was finished. I believe I even have some more of Moriarty's novels on my shelves for me to read when I find the time. So when I started hearing lots of buzz about her latest, I just had to read it.
The Chaperone is a huge departure from her previous novels in that it is historical fiction, where as far as I can tell, most of her previous popular novels, were strictly fiction, and what's more, The Chaperone is based on a widely known person, Louise Brooks, the famous film star of the 1920s and 1930s. What is similar to the previous novel that I had read of Moriarty's is that they both take place in Kansas and since I had spent a brief stint living in Kansas in middle school I enjoy reading about it again from time to time. Am I the only one who had no idea Louise Brooks was from there? To me the only famous person that ever lived there was Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I digress!
If you are looking for a smart woman's summer read that will keep you turning the pages, ladies this is it! The Chaperone centers around Cora who is the titular character and I loved her. Louise Brooks on the other hand, I could have slapped her sideways. Cora is a well to do lady about Wichita in the 1920s, married to a lawyer with two grown sons. When the town hears that a young lady needs an escort to NYC for the summer Cora jumps at the chance because she has some unfinished business there from her youth. At the time that she escorts this young woman, Louise is an unknown just learning her trade but holey crap does this girl have some sass.
What I enjoyed is the way Moriarty lets the story unfold. It is clear that there is some mystery to both Cora and Louise's past and she doesn't just hand it to us. We have to read for awhile to really peel back all of the layers. What I also enjoyed is that, luckily for me, the story mainly focused on Cora, who I liked far more, if you couldn't tell already. Although, don't get me wrong, I could sympathize with Louise as we learned more about her. What I would have appreciated was a slighter tighter narrative towards the end. It did start to drag for me a bit.
However, this is a book that I would recommend to all those looking for a their next summer read and to anyone who is a big historical fiction fan as I know many of you out there are. Read this if you haven't already!
Cover Lust: Love this photo of Louise Brooks. She looks a little more innocent in this one and it is based on a real photo.