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Adventures in babysitting: Book review of ‘The Chaperone’ by Laura Moriarty

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I am not going to sugarcoat this; I adored this novel! Listen, if you put Kansas bred and raised silent film star and rabble rouser Louise Brooks in your book as a character YOU BETTER BRING IT! Happily Laura Moriarty does.

If you do not know who Louise Brooks was then I don’t know what to say. Google her if you must and I’ll wait. See, wasn’t she the bee’s knees? Hell, nearly a century after she was at the height of her fame I would still declare her the “It Girl” of all “It Girls” from Clara Bow to...I don’t know, is Miley Cyrus an “It Girl” or just one with a concert cancelling case of exhaustion? I’ll propose that if Brooks had the opportunities of Gwyneth Paltrow, her GOOP blog would be far more entertaining and probably wouldn’t be called GOOP.

Back to the book, The Chaperone focuses on orphan train Kansas transplant Cora Carlisle who decides she needs a break from her bad marriage and empty nest syndrome so she takes a job as a chaperone. The position is short term and entails traveling and staying with our Miss Brooks as she attends a summer session of the prestigious Denishawn dance school in New York City. NYC being the place that Cora originated from before being placed on a train and sent to out west to homes not vetted by social agencies. I should also comment that my grandmother was an orphan train orphan which I have always found fascinating so for those keeping score at home; this novel had Louise Brooks + orphan train = MY HEAD EXPLODING WITH HAPPINESS AND OTHER SPARKLY STUFF!

Basically the story is about how Cora through her life has played it safe and conservative. She was happy with her adoptive parents and thought she would live a charmed life with her husband, but the proverbial rug was pulled from underneath her feet and it wasn’t as if she lived in a post-Oprah world where she could find a support group or Internet blog to confess her inner feelings. She goes to New York with the agenda of visiting the orphanage that sent her west. She would like to find her birth mother if possible. She also thinks that Louise won’t be such a handful and that she can teach the girl some self-control…HA-HA!

There is a lot to love about this novel which is based on a real event – Louise Brooks really did go to NYC for a summer position with the Denishawn dance troop and that her parents hired a chaperone to accompany her, but everything else is conjecture. Louise is a pocketful of Id, but she is smart and observant and despite her inexperience and the fact that she is from part of the country that New Yorkers tend to despise; she takes the town by storm. Cora may start off as a Melanie Wilkes from Gone with the Wind type of character until she finds her inner Scarlett and comes to terms with the things she can change in her life and the things she cannot.

The storyline does not end at that fateful summer but goes on to cover these women as they age and the world changes around them. It also outlines that despite their distinct differences each woman processes and shares something fundamental with the other who could not have had it otherwise.

I highly recommend The Chaperone to anyone who enjoys a story with some local connections, as well as historical characters. It makes for a great meaty spring read that will be so engrossing you might forget to sip your freshly made lemonade while sitting in your screened-in porch.

Happy reading!

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