This summer my books have been totally blah. Nothing has moved me with either plot or prose. I was craving an escapist read, something beautifully written that hooked me from page one, and I finally found it with The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. The novel made me think, made me cry, and most importantly, made me escape, like a great summer read should.
The Chaperone begins in the 1920s, when future silent movie star Louise Brooks sets off for New York City to study dance with 36-year old Cora Carlisle as a chaperone. Although Louise is only 15, she’s already stunning and controversial, not only in her hometown of Wichita, but even in New York City. Her hair is cut in a bob and her skirts are short and revealing. Keeping Louise out of trouble is an impossible task for Cora, but Cora has more personal motivations for spending a summer month in New York. The summer will launch both women in new directions that will radically change their lives.
The novel spans most of the twentieth century, tracing the evolution of women’s roles and spheres of influence from the 20s to the late 80s. Through Cora’s eyes, we see how quickly fashion and values were changing, from her evolving views on Prohibition to her social brushes with the Klu Klux Klan. Although Cora appears at first glance to be just another Wichita housewife, her character quickly takes on great depth, and she is a highly likable and well-sketched narrator. It’s a pleasure to lose yourself in her life and to witness these tremendous changes in American history in her shoes.
I so enjoyed The Chaperone that I’d like to read more about Louise Brooks and read her well-received memoir, Lulu in Hollywood. This would make a great book club read as it poses a lot of questions about the role of motherhood, how societal mores have changed, and even philosophy. You could even have fun with creating different snacks from different eras in the book.
The Chaperone was published in June 2012 and is now available in paperback. Today Amazon is selling it for $12.64.