Set in the early 1920s, main character Cora is a 36-year-old Wichita housewife who makes the unexpected decision to accompany 15-year-old Louise Brooks on a summer trip to New York City, where Louise is enrolled in the prestigious Denishawn dance school. Cora's fussy, old-fashioned morals come in direct conflict with Louise's loose flapper lifestyle. By the end of the summer, Cora has found (mostly unsatisfying) answers to her questions about her concealed past and Louise has been accepted into the Denishawn dance troupe, successfully launching her career in dance and film. While I'd never heard of Louise Brooks before, she actually was a real Hollywood silent film star . . . the book's historical fiction.
If you read the back cover of the book, you're lead to believe the book deals mostly with that fateful summer for Louise and Cora. What I didn't realize was that the book basically chronicles Cora's life in its entirety. After spending much of her childhood and young adult life trying to conform to stuffy Midwestern standards, Cora's trip to New York prompts her to listen closely to her heart. She ends up living an entirely unconventional life, advocating for things as taboo at the time as birth control. While the ending dragged a bit (Cora lives forever) and at times Moriarty pushes the tale to the very limits of believability, I always found Cora's character so interesting and engaging that I was more than willing to suspend disbelief for a while . . . just for her.
I tend to give hyped up fiction the side-eye (USA Today called The Chaperone its Hot Fiction Pick of the Summer) and after a very slow first chapter, I wondered if my cynicism wasn't somewhat accurate. But as Moriarty delved deeper into Cora's mysterious childhood, I found my fascination with the plot growing and growing, until I was dealing with a full-out pageturner. Perhaps Moriarty resolves some of the fascinating plot devices too early in the book for The Chaperone to really grip readers until the very last page, but I still found this a lovely and satisfying summer escape.
You can join the discussion about The Chaperone over at the Blogher Book Club.
Disclosure: I participated in this review for the BlogHer Book Club. I was compensated for my time and received a complimentary copy of the book. However, all opinions expressed in the review are my own.