Review: ‘The Chaperone’ by Laura Moriarty

by Kim on May 1, 2012 · 24 comments

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Title: The Chaperone
Author: Laura Moriarty
Genre: Fiction
Year: 2012
Acquired: From the publisher for review as part of a TLC Book Tour
Rating: ★★★½☆

One Sentence Summary: A summer in the city chaperoning a wayward teenage starlet becomes the opportunity for a 36-year-old woman to have her own coming-of-age story.

One Sentence Review: The Chaperone sticks out to me because of the unexpected protagonist, an everywoman who learns to push convention in small ways and find what she wants in her life.

Why I Read It: I’ve been on a bit of a historical fiction kick lately, so when I got an e-mail from TLC Book Tours suggesting this book, I thought it sounded like fun. After I accepted, I remembered that enjoyed Moriarty’s debut novel, The Center of Everything.

Long Review: In the summer of 1922, future movie star Louise Brooks, then 15, leaves her home in Wichita, Kansas for New York City to spend the summer training with the Denishawn modern dance company. Her chaperone for the trip is 36-year-old Cora Carlisle, a married mother of grown twin boys with a secret past of her own in New York. The women couldn’t be more different — Louise rejects all trappings of a conventional life, while Cora can’t help but be bound by her choices and her allegiances. But, as might be expected, the summer manages to change both of their lives forever.

The thing I found most fascinating about Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone was the way Moriarty chose to shift the focus of her story away from the expected protagonist — Louise — and on to her chaperone, Cora. In most cases, this summer-in-the-city story would have been a coming-of-age tale for Louise, a young girl in the big city for the first time. Instead, Louise is almost an antagonist in the story, provoking Cora and challenging the older woman at every turn. The Chaperone is really a coming-of-age story for Cora, and I liked that a lot.

Cora, in a lot of ways, reminds me of a sort of everywoman — a person who is living her life the best way she knows how, but feeling uncomfortable at many of the restraints that society puts on her, both physically (corsets) and socially (the terms of acceptable and unacceptable behavior). As she spends her summer in New York, investigating a link to her past and trying to keep Louise safe, Cora gradually opens up and starts to see the world differently. Eventually, she brings that new awareness of herself and society back to Wichita and her old life, continuing to push conventions in small ways.

There’s more to be said about the book than just this one observation, but at this moment it’s what sticks out most to me. The Chaperone won’t be out until June 5, but I hope you’ll consider grabbing a copy if historical fiction like this floats your boat. And, be sure to check out the rest of the reviews as part of this TLC Book Tour for other opinions.

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