Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Review: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
When fifteen-year-old Louisa Brooks is offered to study at the prestigious Denishawn School of dance in New York, she is ecstatic but annoyed that her parents insist on sending her with a chaperone. Cora Carlisle overhears that the Brooks’ are looking for a chaperone, and she quickly jumps at the chance to offer her assistance, giving her husband no choice but to agree to let her go. Cora is in her thirties, married to a successful lawyer and her twin boys are away for the summer. Within a few days, Cora and Louisa board a train, set for New York. Cora quickly learns that she must tighten the reins on Louisa. Louisa is a wild child; ready to take on New York, keeping her morally in check proves to be very difficult. Cora is relieved when she learns the Denishawn School has strict rules which Louisa must follow while attending class. During the day Cora is free to explore New York; instead of sightseeing Cora has a hidden agent to investigate her own past. Before she was Cora Carlisle, she was “Cora X”- an orphan in New York.
The Chaperone is cleverly written and astonishingly well plotted. Louisa Brooks may be the famous silent actress with a sordid past, but the root of the novel is in Cora. Readers will immediately connect with Cora. Cora yearns to discover who she really is, who her parents are, what her ethnicity is. Her past is a blank slate, and she is hoping after many donations to her orphanage, they may decide to have a change of heart, and give her something, one little clue. Cora has spent her whole life, hiding her past, telling everyone her parents passed away. Her husband is the only one who really knows about her past. As a young girl, Cora was sent on a Catholic orphan train bound for the mid-west. She was eventually chosen by a nice couple, and she settled into her new life. Unfortunately, they passed suddenly, leaving Cora with nothing. Cora now has a respectable life, a successful husband who seems devoted to her, but behind closed doors, their marriage is not what it seems. Cora’s story is truly absorbing and very original.
Louisa is also a very interesting character, her family relationships are strained, especially with her mother. Louisa explains that her mother never really wanted children, and as a result she has always been disinterested in raising them. Louisa is self-centered, spoiled, and bratty but she also has a troubled past. Cora has her work cut out for her, and Louisa is sneaky. While Cora may be traditional, and conservative, there was no denying that times were changing.
I loved the Chaperone, and I didn’t really know what to expect when I started the novel. I was immediately captured by the story, and it was much better than I expected. I expected a book about flappers, and 1920’s New York, but there is so much more to this novel. The historical details are plentiful, but the story is truly spellbinding. There has been a lot of buzz around this book, which is well deserved. I highly recommend this one!