My Rating: ★★★★★
Cora Carlisle, a traditional thirty six year old woman in 1922, joins a young, audacious Louise Brooks for a life changing summer in New York City. Louise is opinionated, flirtatious, and makes a stir in Wichita, Kansas, with her good looks and blunt, short hair. Louise wants to go study dance in New York, but won’t be able to go without a chaperone. Enter Cora. Looking for answers of her own, Cora is the only volunteer to go with Louise. She realizes she might have bitten off more than she can chew once Louise starts arguing with her at every turn, and trying to share her modern beliefs on drinking, sex, and race with the still naive Cora.
Going into this book, I didn’t know who Louise Brooks was…and now I know that she was a real person, and really did become the most popular actress of her time.
However as far as I can tell, Cora isn’t a real person, but made an incredible fictional one, so I wish she was! I was pretty much expecting a book about flappers and the roaring twenties and prohibition, but that’s not what I got at all. The Chaperone dealt with issues that were completely taboo at the time, like sexuality, contraception, and single mothers, as well as other difficult topics like race and gender. We learned about each of these topics through the eyes of Cora, who dealt with all of them over the course of the novel. I absolutely loved the back and forth between Louise and Cora, and how in the end, Cora was not only the mother Louise didn’t have, but how she ended up teaching Cora so much about herself and the world around her. The one summer they spent together gave Cora so much for the rest of her life. I don’t want to say too much more because it’s a lot of the plot.
I absolutely loved this book so much. I felt like I grew up with Cora and Louise, and I cannot fathom being a woman in the 20’s. Every time someone mentioned propriety I wanted to scream. And I knew birth control wasn’t always readily available but I had no idea the stigma it carried with it. I can’t help but wonder how much girls didn’t act out the way Louise did (okay maybe not EXACTLY how she did) though I realize change takes times and we’re still trying TODAY. The fact that Cora got her shot at happiness, and Louise kind of ended up getting the last laugh by publishing her memoir made me happy, and I really just enjoyed every aspect of this book.
I would give this book five stars, hands down. If you love historical fiction or just books about the 20’s like I do, it’s definitely for you. Now I want to go read Lulu in Hollywood, Louise’s memoir, and get her side of the story!
Some favorite quotes:
“The young can exasperate, of course, and frighten, and condescend, and insult, and cut you with their still unrounded edges. But they can also drag you, as you protest and scold and try to pull away, right up to the window of the future, and even push you through.”
“Was it mad to at least try to live as one wished, or as close to it as possible? This life is mine, she would think sometimes. This life is mine because of good luck. And because I reached out and took it.”