In the 1920s, Cora volunteers to chaperone young and willful Louise on a trip from Kansas to New York City so Louise can tryout for a distinguished dance company. It’s a time of intolerance—of alcohol, of jazz, of short skirts, of bobbed hair—and Cora who (mostly) agrees with this intolerance tries to instill morality into Louise. However, it is Louise Brooks (a future famous silent film star) who ends up teaching Cora a thing or two about tolerance and acceptance.
Most of the book follows their journey to and in New York City. Cora, whose orphan beginnings are shrouded in doubt, is searching for the truth of who her parents were. In her investigation in the city she meets some interesting characters that help open up her worldview. While most of the Kansas storyline is dull, author Laura Moriarty does a fairly succinct job of providing the pertinent background information needed to create these fully realized characters.
She also does a great job capturing the spirit of the era. It is very easy to picture New York at this time with her descriptions of the atmosphere and character of those who reside in it. And the New York section of the book is by far the most compulsively readable part.
However, the book strays into tedium in the last 100 pages. After the reaching the revelations we’ve been expecting our characters to attain, the story drags out. Moriarty jumps through time to provide quick glimpses of what happens to the character in the next 60 years of their lives. Aside from a heartfelt reunion scene between Cora and Louise, there is little of interest in the snippets of scenes here and there; and they feel like a repetitive rehashing of Cora’s expanding change of morals that we have already learned from the first part of the book.
Moriarty has crafted a great story and setting, a fully imagined world. It is definitely a treat reading parts one and two, but avoid the third part. Instead, put down the book and you can easily imagine how well things might work out for the characters after seeing what choices they make in New York.
- Review: The Chaperone (bermudaonion.net)
- The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty (bookjourney.wordpress.com)
- ‘The Chaperone’ brings 1920s Wichita to life (kansascity.com)
- Books of The Times: ‘The Chaperone’ by Laura Moriarty (nytimes.com)