Friday, December 14, 2012

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

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.

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.
(Synopsis from

This was not what I expected. The synopsis made me envision a story set mainly in NYC during the time of the chaperoning, but it's really the story of Cora Carlisle's life, from beginning to end. That's not a bad thing, it's just not what I was expecting. And in fact, her life is very interesting -- I just wish I would have known that from the start.

The characters were intriguing, albeit somewhat predictable. What really rankled me about this book was Cora's blatant prejudice. Perhaps I was overly harsh when judging her (as she was when judging just about everyone in this book) but it was very hard for me to get past it. I understand that many people in the '20s were racist and/or sexist, but I guess I'm just used to my heroines being above the bias of the times. It definitely rubbed me the wrong way, being told to cheer for a woman so narrow-minded, but maybe it's to Moriarty's credit for making her characters so realistic.

I listened to this book on audio (free from my local library) and I have to say I loved the audio version. I'm not much of an audio book fan but it was easy to follow along and I liked hearing the accents (even if sometimes I swear they weren't completely consistent). If you like this time period, The Chaperone is a wonderful addition to '20s literature.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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