Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen
The year is 1929. New York is ruled by the Bright Young Things: flappers and socialites seeking thrills and chasing dreams in the anything-goes era of the Roaring Twenties.
Letty Larkspur and Cordelia Grey escaped their small Midwestern town for New York's glittering metropolis. All Letty wants is to see her name in lights, but she quickly discovers Manhattan is filled with pretty girls who will do anything to be a star…
Cordelia is searching for the father she's never known, a man as infamous for his wild parties as he is for his shadowy schemes. Overnight, she enters a world more thrilling and glamorous than she ever could have imagined—and more dangerous. It's a life anyone would kill for . . . and someone will.
The only person Cordelia can trust is Astrid Donal, a flapper who seems to have it all: money, looks, and the love of Cordelia's brother, Charlie. But Astrid's perfect veneer hides a score of family secrets.
Across the vast lawns of Long Island, in the illicit speakeasies of Manhattan, and on the blindingly lit stages of Broadway, the three girls' fortunes will rise and fall—together and apart. From the New York Times bestselling author of The Luxe comes an epic new series set in the dizzying last summer of the Jazz Age. (Courtesy of Goodreads)
Bright Young Things is a rollicking tale set at the very end of the 1920s - just before the world takes a nosedive. Money flows, opportunity flows, alcohol flows (perhaps even more because it's illegal). Our story switches between the perspective of three young women. Letty is an sweet, innocent girl from Ohio from a strict family who dreams of making it big in New York. Cordelia is a daring, ahead-of-her-time girl from Ohio who runs off to New York City with Letty on the day of her wedding to a boy she didn't love. Astrid is a blue-blood New Yorker who has everything she wants - money, possessions, boyfriend - except for a true friend.
The stories of the three girls weave in and out of each other. Letty and Cordelia break apart after a petty argument. Astrid and Cordelia become fast friends after Cordelia finds her long-lost father, whose son is Astrid's boyfriend. Cordelia's father is a famous and fabulously wealthy bootlegger. He immediately accepts her into the family. Charlie, Cordelia's new half-brother and Astrid's boyfriend is more reluctant.
Godbersen's books are always enjoyable, but take me awhile to get into. She is very heavy on descriptions and atmospherics. So much so that the story suffers at the beginning. It drags as the author establishes the mood and aesthetics of each scene. But don't be discouraged. The story does get going and with the well-developed atmosphere, you're soon engrossed in the plot and the characters' world. You can see the furniture of the houses, visualize the gorgeous outfits, smell the scents of liquor, cigarettes, and gunpowder, hear the swinging jazz beats and Letty's sultry voice. The strong descriptions result in a very rich book.
I liked all of the main characters. It would be so easy to villainize any of the three, especially Astrid, the spoiled rich girl. Their flaws aren't hidden from us. Cordelia, for example, abandoned her husband, an admittedly sweet boy who was probably devastated at her disappearance. Charlie, Cordelia's brother, vacillates between being a jerky boyfriend and brother and being sweet and protective. No one is flatly good or bad. I became so invested in their personalities and their stories that I would be crushed when something bad happened to them and ready to reach into the pages to slap them when they did something stupid.
Only two issues come to my mind with this book (apart from the initial dragging induced by the heavy descriptions). First, I thought the argument that caused Letty and Cordelia to break us was silly. It seemed unrealistic for Letty to become so upset over the fact that Cordelia's world didn't revolve entirely around her. Letty doesn't seem that narcissistic to me. Secondly, I thought the speed with which Cordelia's father accepted Cordelia as his daughter was rather unrealistic. A man with his wealth and with a line of work that has constant danger, I wouldn't think he would be so fast to believe in a long-lost daughter. Charlie was more suspicious, but even he accepted Cordelia extremely quickly. Actually, a lot of things in the book are unrealistic, or perhaps more melodramatic than unrealistic. This could be considered a criticism or you could also just compare it to the epic nature of an old black & white film. Overdone drama can be quite fun.
With just a few exceptions, Bright Young Things is a fabulous book. I'm interested to see what future books do with the last few good months of 1929 and perhaps the first few bad months of the Depression.
Rating: 4 / 5