Thursday, March 19, 2015

Genevieve Valentine - The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

From award-winning author Genevieve Valentine, a "gorgeous and bewitching" (Scott Westerfeld) reimagining of the fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses as flappers during the Roaring Twenties in Manhattan.
Jo, the firstborn, "The General" to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father's townhouse to await the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off.
The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud to the Swan and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn't seen in almost ten years. Suddenly Jo must weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself. 

Comment: It was quite the surprise to know of the existence of this book and that happened thanks to Hilcia who suggested it for one of the book clubs we are part of on Goodreads.
This book is a sort of version of the story Twelve Dancing Princesses although not fantasy but a contemporary set during the jazz era during the 1920s.

The book is the tale of twelve sisters who live practically imprisoned in their father's house. Since the oldest, Jo, until the youngest, Violet, the amount of sisters that exist are due to their father's wish for a heir. The boy was never born and their mother couldn't hold on anymore. But the girls are restless and to stop them from doing something uncontrollable, Jo takes charge and they start going out to dance, hidden from their father.
Things change the day the father decides to marry the girls, and he doesn't about with whom. From this point on, Jo's life and her sisters' changes completely.

This story, as most versions and retelling of fairy tales or myths, is based on similarities to the original story, namely the amount of sisters, their need to dance and the fact there's a hopeful HEA for them.
But the author chose to set her story in the 1920s, in a time still full of society rules and special characteristics to change the way the story could unfold.
I liked the setting, is has many details about that time, many references to how things were done - specially the way bars and clubs would work, how they would deal with the police and the protection of those who owned the bars, of course many references to clothes and most important, the dances.
And one good thing, despite the abundance of detail, this isn't the aim of the story so everything seems to have been inserted in the mot clever way, making the story come alive but not to a point of being an history lesson.

I think the detail that stays the most with me is the tone of the story. It feels introspective and not as fairytale as one would think, but close. I can't explain its whimsical flavor but it's almost like knowing of a strange dream and reading those words allows us to know of a story but something tat could just disappear between our fingers, like sand. The style if very peculiar, special.

I like knowing the sisters. Of course we get more scenes of Jo and the next sisters, Lou, Ella, Doris. They seem to be the most influential sisters but we know who the others are and despite their high number, it's still easy enough to know who's who and which things are better suited for each one. I think this was clever too, because with so many of them, some could be lost in the story, but no, all have something unique.

There's inklings of romance. Jo, in particular, as she's the obvious main character. I liked her, the way she always did what she thought best for the girls and how she put aside her wants and sacrificed so much - even her self worth in a way - to be the person the others could look up for. She's a complex character but I think any reader can understand why he is like that.
I think she's not perfect but if one considers the time when the story is set, her choices weren't that many and that shapes up a good part of the plot.

The author's style is likable for me but at some parts I admit she was a little too introspective, she went a bit too far on the reading between the lines. Yes, some things aren't said or shown, we infer them and although this is part of the special detail of the story, it can be annoying on those times a clear and obvious information should be stated instead.

I liked the end. All sisters found the happiness they were looking for even if they had to fight for it. That's the lesson to be learned, we can be trapped anyway we think, but only the belief in ourselves will set us free. More or less, of course. But here's the thing. The sisters face a separation when they finally go free. I understand that and I also understand the need, both in terms of plot and character growing. But the emotions, the scenes we see of them in those moments make me sad, make me think about what it means to be so used to something or someone and then things change and you have to make new memories based on the new reality, but still with the past so present. It's complicated and the story really shook me over.

I hope everyone feels interested in reading.I'm very glad I read it. I think this is a great book, a wonderful story, full of details and little things that stay with us long after the book is finished.
Grade: 8/10

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