The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty.
"Alan. Do you know Leonard Brooks?"
She waited for his nod, though she already knew the answer. Alan knew all of the other lawyers in town.
"Well," she said, "his eldest daughter got into a dance school in New York. He and his wife would like a married woman to chaperone her. For the month of July, and some of August." She rubbed her lips together. "I think I'll go."
She glanced at him only briefly, seeing his surprise, before she turned back to her window.
Louise Brooks was an actual silent film star of the 1920s and '30s, though I had not heard of her until reading this novel. There's a quote from her at the beginning of the book which tipped me off that she was real, and I Googled her and read a bit about her after I finished the novel. She was known for having a "lively" private life, so to say, and eventually her drinking and carousing ended up negatively impacting her film career. She wrote an autobiography called Lulu in Hollywood that was very well received, though, and was said to have a quick wit and was sharp in her writing.
The Chaperone focuses on Louise in the summer of 1922, or more specifically, the chaperone, Mrs. Cora Carlisle, that accompanied her to New York City that summer when she took classes with the Denishawn dance company. Cora has her own reasons for going to New York - she was an orphan there and was shipped to Kansas on a train, where a nice family adopted her, and she wants to see if she can find any information about her birth mother. Her husband, Alan, knows this is why she wants to go to New York, but no one else knows she was originally from there. Louise's goal is to eventually join the dance company at the end of the summer, but since she is only 15 her parents insist a chaperone go to New York with her. Cora ends up finding more about her past than she would have liked, and Louise does eventually earn a coveted spot in the Denishawn dance group; after that, the book follows them all the way into Cora's elderly years.
This book was very well-written. In an interview of the author by fellow author Curtis Sittenfeld on the Amazon page for the book, Moriarty says that she's always been intrigued by Louise Brooks, and that the story of her first going to NYC with a 36-year-old chaperone was a true one. This novel, though in the third-person, sets out to tell the story of that chaperone. On the outside, Cora looks like a very traditional housewife; we soon learn that her home situation isn't exactly what it appears to be, and although Louise sees her as a "stick-in-the-mud" type persona, she has some secrets she's keeping from her.
The characters were all very relatable in this book too, regarding their motivations, and it may just inspire you to watch one of Louise's movies from the black and white era after you finish it.
4.5 stars out of 5.
*Disclosure: I was compensated and given a copy of this novel to write this review for the BlogHer Book Club. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.