Monday, July 9, 2012

The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty

When Cora Carlisle, an empty-nester in Witchita, Kansas in the 1920's, agrees to chaperone fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks to New York City for the summer, she's looking for change. Cora's life does change--dramatically--but not in the way she expects.

A product of the orphan trains that ran from New York to the Midwest in the late 1800's, Cora wants to accompany the improper, irreverent teen because she hopes to learn more about her history. Cora's respect for social norms and her feelings of obligation to morally instruct her clearly neglected charge cause constant tension between the two females while they travel and set up home in their small New York apartment.

Although Louise becomes the famous flapper star of silent and talking motion pictures and broadway stages, the real star of this novel is Cora. Her transformation from an unfulfilled but loyal housewife to an openminded, passionate woman was deliciously engaging. The novel does a wonderful job of celebrating the liberal social mores of today by going back in time and liberating a handful of characters whose lives would have been tragic had Cora not abandoned her stuffy, narrow views.