By Laura Moriarty
Riverhead Books, $26.95, 371 pages
Cora Carlisle is a quiet, proper wife in 1920s Wichita, Kansas who decides to volunteer to be the chaperone for a young girl spending a month in New York City. So begins The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. The girl is 15-year-old Louise Brooks and her dancing abilities have qualified her to train with a well-known dance troupe, but travel alone to NYC is unthinkable. As might be expected, Louise is less than thrilled to have a staid matron tag along on her adventure and makes her displeasure clear at every opportunity. However, there is more to Cora. Her interest in New York is not superficial; she has a reason for going. A reason that is important enough that she puts up with the antics and rude behavior of a precocious teenager.
There is enough going on in this novel to keep even the flightiest reader engaged, what with the facts of Louise Brooks’s life and the myriad of changes that were occurring in society at the time (women in short skirts and make-up, Prohibition and the right-to-vote). How wonderful then, that Laura Moriarty weaves the story of Cora with such dexterity that she becomes the focus despite the fact that Louise is the Louise Brooks, soon-to-be silent film star. Instead, it is quiet Cora and her past and choices that center The Chaperone.
Reviewed by Catherine Gilmore