Coming June 5th from Riverhead Hardcover
Synopsis: A captivating novel about the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922, and the summer that would change them both. Only a few years before becoming a famous actress and an icon for her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita to make it big 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 is a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip. She has no idea what she's in for: Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous blunt bangs and black bob, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will change their lives forever.
For Cora, New York holds the promise of discovery that might prove an answer to the question at the center of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in a strange and bustling city, she embarks on her own mission. And while what she finds isn't what she anticipated, it liberates her in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of the summer, Cora's eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.
The Chaperone isn't a type of book I usually read because I'm not a big fan of women's fiction overall, but when TLC Book Tours on behalf of Laura approached me about The Chaperone and asked me to be a part of the book tour for Laura, I decided to take a chance and stretch my wings, so to speak.
The Chaperone begins in 1922 from the POV of thirty-six year old married mother of two, Cora Carlisle. Cora has a wonderful marriage with a loving husband and two wonderful twin boys who are ready to go to college. Cora lives in the Wichita, Kansas and longs for some more excitement in her life. She's then given an opportunity to be a chaperone to the fifteen year old, Louise Brooks who will stay in New York City for a month to try out for a prestigious dance company in the hopes she'll become a big stage star. Since no other woman has come forward to volunteer and Louise's mother can't go, Cora does.
Cora has her own reasons for chaperoning Louise. Cora was an orphan brought up by nuns in New York City until she was nine years old and then sent to the mid west to live with a family. She wants to find her birth parents. Her husband gives her his blessing because Cora knows a dark secret he hides, that if it gets out, he'll be destroyed. Cora has this leverage over him because he owes her big time, and without any fuss on his end, off she goes with Louise to the big city. It's quite the adventure for Cora because it takes her out of her comfort zone and Louise is a handful. Louise is spoiled, immature and is a big flirt toward older men, as well as adventurous. Cora can barely stand Louise, but then she figures out why Louise acts the way she does. She comes to pity her because Louise also has some shocking secrets.
The first half of The Chaperone kept me turning the page to see if Cora would find her real parents and if Louise would stay out of trouble. The best part of this novel is the time Cora is in New York City. She bones with the handyman at the children's home she grew up at, who she has a romance with that continues until the end of the novel. It's not necessarily adultery per say on Cora's part when you come to understand the dynamics of her marriage, which is a big spoiler. You sympathize with Cora because she's kind and generous and you want her to find happiness wherever she can. I wanted to smack Louise because she's a bad apple, but what has happened to her when she was a child, around the same age Cora left the nuns, gives some understanding to her character.
The Chaperone falters big time when Cora returns home to Kansas and the next five decades of her life fly by. We're given somewhat lax information about Louise and her Hollywood life, and by the last few chapters I was bored because it didn't feel like storytelling and more like I was reading a magazine article with facts and information. If the second half had been as amazing as the first, then The Chaperone would have been in my top 10 best books for this year.
The sights and sounds of the decade of the roaring 20's was well done and I really enjoyed Laura's writing and her characters, especially Cora who is a strong and well-crafted character. Louise is one you love to hate, but as time goes on and you find out what becomes of her, all you can feel for the girl who wanted to be the next big thing on the stage and screen is extreme sadness.
The Chaperone was enjoyable and I'm glad I took a chance on this novel. It was a departure read for me and well worth it.
Final Grade: B-