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Beautiful Days: A Bright Young Things Novel

Review

Beautiful Days: A Bright Young Things Novel

Two midwestern girls from Ohio, Cordelia Grey and Letty Larkspur came to New York with stars in their eyes. After a month in the city, their lives have changed dramatically. Cordelia discovers she is the daughter of Darius Grey, a notorious bootlegger. She is left running her father’s business concerns after his death at the hands of Thom Hale, the man she thought she loved. All she can think of now is the success of her new speakeasy and revenge against the Hales. But she’s distracted from her goals by the dashing aviator Max Darby, who disdains alcohol and seems immune to her charms.

"Even if the styles have changed and the life of the average reader isn’t nearly so glamorous, in BEAUTIFUL DAYS Godbersen still makes it very easy to slip into her characters’ shoes."
Letty, after working as a cigarette girl in short skirts that would scandalize her religious family, has reconciled with Cordelia. They now live together on the Greys’ Long Island estate. Cordelia has promised she can sing at their new speakeasy. But when a woman from Darius’s past is given the position instead, Letty is crushed. She is determined to make her Broadway dreams come true, at any price, even if it means taking on a role in the chorus. Unfortunately, this compromises her relationship with Grady Lodge, who turns out to be not the starving writer she thought he was, but the son of one of New York’s most eligible families.
 
Their friend, Astrid, a socialite whose precarious position rests mostly on the successes of her mother’s marriages, is ready to marry Cordelia’s brother, Charlie. At least Astrid thinks she’s ready. She moves in with the Greys while they plan the wedding, only to discover she is a constant second to Charlie’s business concerns. Encouraged by Vincent, one of Charlie’s g-men, her attempts to get Charlie’s attention are disastrous, ending when she is kidnapped by a rival bootlegging gang, the one led by Cordelia’s sworn enemy, Thom Hale.
 
In BEAUTIFUL DAYS, the second book in Anna Godbersen’s Bright Young Things series, each of these girls learns that the things they thought they wanted come at a price. Cordelia’s family affiliations come at the expense of her safety and privacy. Not even Max’s plane can keep her flying above the troubles that plague the family business. Letty’s ambition for stardom seemed assured after her successes at the end of BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS, but she discovers that even having the best connections is no guarantee that her talent will be recognized. And Astrid, so sure of her passion for Charlie (or is it Charlie’s money?), doesn’t know if he loves her as a person or as a possession.
 
Godbersen adds some new plot twists to book two of the series, which is set during the last summer of the Jazz Age just before the stock market crash of 1929. Cordelia, Letty and Astrid have the connections and notoriety to ensure them entrance into most of the exclusive places. However, among the secrets revealed here is that one of the characters is of mixed-race origins. This individual passes as white in places where any other color would be unacceptable. The identity of this person and how the secret is protected is one of the most intriguing aspects of BEAUTIFUL DAYS, upping the ante to a series that begins with a relatively breezy tone.
 
Likewise, the specter of violence stalks these characters. The abuse Letty experienced at the hands of an unscrupulous promoter in BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS is endemic in the show business world, and the line she walks to keep her career and her integrity is precarious, especially if she must do so without the support of her friends. The murder that ended the first book becomes central to the second, as rival gangs fight for turf and use family members as hostages. The ill-gotten gains of a fortune built on bootlegging are starting to interfere with Cordelia’s relationships and peace of mind.
 
Finally, Godbersen bravely adds a little sexual ambiguity to the mix. Predictable heterosexual pairings are the norm for these kinds of romances, so an even number of male and female protagonists pair off by the end. But she has created a lesbian character and hints at the possibility that there may be more to one of the book’s friendships than initially meets the eye. Even in the loose world of bootlegging and flappers, there are still things that are unacceptable, so this decision adds some intrigue to the series.
 
In thinking about the recent craze for all things 1920s (including the hit HBO series “Boardwalk Empire”), it’s easy to succumb to the glamour of the setting and overlook everyday realities or risks that come with the period. When I reflect on its appeal, especially to youth readers, I keep thinking about the issue of prohibition, and how the decision to make alcohol illegal had a whole host of consequences unforeseen when the legislation was enacted. I suspect that part of the appeal of the era for teens is that for people under the age of 21, prohibition hasn’t ended. The descriptions of crazy parties in secret locations fueled by forbidden substances is as current for any young adult as it would have been during prohibition.
 
So are the consequences. Perhaps not to the extreme as in Godbersen’s book, but the age of speakeasies isn’t as far from us as we think. And even if the styles have changed and the life of the average reader isn’t nearly so glamorous, in BEAUTIFUL DAYS Godbersen still makes it very easy to slip into her characters’ shoes.
 

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on November 21, 2011

Beautiful Days: A Bright Young Things Novel
by Anna Godbersen

  • Publication Date: July 31, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Romance
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0061962694
  • ISBN-13: 9780061962691