Bright Young Things

Anna Godbersen sets her latest series at the end of the roaring twenties, a time of prohibition and loosening morals when everyone who wanted to be anyone flocked to New York City. Cordelia and Letty are no different -- two girls from Ohio convinced that they're bigger than their small town. Cordelia is practically forced into marrying her high school sweetheart after being caught doing things with him that no good girl would do before marriage, spurring her decision that it's time for the girls to leave. They skip the reception to hop on the only train that goes direct to New York City and so begin their epic adventure. Letty (who ditches her last name and re-christens herself "Letty Larkspur") has stage aspirations and while she might be naive, she has the vocal talent that just might make her dreams come true. Cordelia, meanwhile, simply appears to be supportive of Letty's plans and doesn't confide in her friend that she believes she has figured out the identity of her father: the notorious bootlegger Darius Grey.

After a night on the town and a loud fight, the girls get kicked out of their hotel for unmarried women on their very first night and go their separate ways. Letty is taken under the wing of a cigarette girl who invites her to live in a small apartment with her and two others, and even manages to secure Letty a steady job while Letty circles newspaper audition ads that she hasn't the courage to go to. Cordelia shows up at Dogwood, Darius Grey's estate, on the night that he's throwing himself a birthday party... and after tricking her way in, is welcomed with open arms by the father who always missed her (even if her new half-brother isn't exactly thrilled with her appearance). Cordelia befriends Astrid, her new brother's girlfriend, and Astrid proves to be a young woman who has grown up privileged, though the situation has always been somewhat precarious as her mother goes through husbands rather quickly. Bright Young Things entwines the stories of these three young women, destined to play a role in each other's lives, and sure to live quite an adventure before "one would be famous, one would be married, and one would be dead."

I'll admit that since I haven't read The Luxe and its series, I wasn't quite sure what to expect -- yet Bright Young Things exceeded whatever those expectations were. Godbersen's ability to create a historically sound atmosphere makes for a charming read, as what New Yorker hasn't imagined the bygone days of the 1920s? It's full of jazz and illegal liquor, of course we've imagined it (even before Boardwalk Empire helped us with the details.) As a result, it's a great time period for a series, particularly one that doesn't seem fixated on just providing the point-of-view of the wealthy. Letty's storyline is a touch more realistic (including the struggle to make ends meet and naive notions dashed in dramatic ways), whereas Cordelia is whisked off to luxury and a Montague/Capulet family feud, realized a bit too late for her romantic nature. Astrid, meanwhile, deals with the many sides of both wealth and romance -- which makes her come off a bit one-note in the beginning and she develops depth as we go. Astrid's presence is a little surprising at the start -- though one assumes she'll be folded into the main story and come to know Letty and Cordelia. Her position as girlfriend of Cordelia's new half-brother and Cordelia's new best friend is an interesting role, particularly as her friendship with Cordelia seems very situational. As a result, she remains a bit of an outsider, allowed her closeness with the absence of Letty, and so the next books will likely play upon her tenuous bond.

The three girls are all unique in situation and attitude, though I hope we don't lose the perspective that's placed on the less-than-upper-crust scene. The glitz and glamour might be with the high society types, but the peek at how the rest of us might have lived is quite fascinating indeed (and certainly bears a resemblance to young adults of the modern day, just out of college and floundering around in the big city). As the first in a series, Bright Young Things certainly shows promise and while that whole "one would be famous, one would be married, and one would be dead" is ridiculously over-dramatic, it does certainly have the reader guessing as to the fate of each girl.

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