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Bright Young Things

Review

Bright Young Things

Letty Larkspur and Cordelia Grey are best friends from the same Ohio town. Letty is from a religious family that still wears mourning for her mother, who died long ago. Cordelia is an orphan being raised by a rigid aunt. When Cordelia is roped into a shotgun wedding after being caught necking in the nude at the town swimming hole, the two escape their drab Midwestern lives for the bright lights of New York City. They arrive in Manhattan with dreams of fame and fortune, but neither of them are prepared for what the city actually has to offer. From Manhattan clubs to downtown boarding houses, from the bridges of Brooklyn to estates on Long Island, BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS is a new series from The Luxe author Anna Godbersen, set in the last wild summer before the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929.

Letty dreams of becoming a showbiz sensation and has a golden voice to take her there. But she doesn’t realize that the city teems with other women willing to do just about anything to get their big break. Her religious family would disown her if they saw her working in short skirts and high heels as a cigarette girl in a speakeasy. Coming under the sway of a sleazy Broadway promoter, Letty has to decide if she has what it takes to be a star and how far she’s willing to go to make her dreams come true.

Cordelia has always been the more adventurous of the two. She has come to the city looking for her father, the notorious Darius Grey. He’s a famed bootlegger who’s made his fortune running illegal liquor and won his infamy with lavish parties to promote the fast lifestyle favored by the city’s bright young things. Grey accepts her as his daughter, but Cordelia quickly comes to question her part in the bargain. Sure, she’s living in the lap of luxury, but being the daughter of a kingpin means she’s under constant surveillance. Worse, the man she fell for in her first few weeks in the city is the son of a rival bootlegger. Every time she sneaks out to see him, her life could be in danger.

The two girls --- separated early in the story --- are joined by a cast of colorful characters, whether it’s Letty’s showgirl roommates who give her advice on how to make a living as an up-and-coming actress, or Astrid Donal, the socialite who befriends Cordelia and shows her around Long Island’s most elite estates. Astrid has problems of her own. Despite the appearance of being a stylish and liberated flapper, she’s desperately in love with Cordelia’s bootlegging brother, Charlie. The two lovers live in a state of constant jealousy. Meanwhile, Astrid’s mother is carrying on with a stable boy. Her third marriage is ending, and if mother or daughter doesn’t find someone to bankroll or marry soon, their extravagant lifestyle will quickly unravel.

Godbersen’s previous series, The Luxe, was set in Gilded Age New York, an era where privilege and breeding were everything. BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS is set in the Roaring Twenties, where the boundaries of race, sex and money are beginning to blur. New-money bootleggers rub elbows with old-money socialites. A downtown club might have gangsters, heiresses and authors all dancing to the new sounds of jazz. And if two girls from Ohio are thrown into the mix, no one knows or cares where they came from as long as they are up for a good time.

BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS has all the intrigue of The Luxe, but less melodrama. Whereas The Luxe got much of its punch from the secrets characters kept, BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS seems built on who can command attention through more outrageous behavior. A focus on fashion and romance returns, but so far the series does not contain a character as flashy and provocative as The Luxe’s Penelope Hayes. Nevertheless, there is plenty of action here to keep the reader entertained, and Godbersen’s choice to set the book before the economic collapse that caused the Great Depression ensures that the characters will be facing plenty of conflict soon.

In Britain, the term “bright young things” was applied to the devil-may-care party culture that developed after World War I. The war’s devastating toll on the youth population also generated the phrase “the lost generation” because some towns had their entire population of young men killed in the war. The “bright young things” were the center of the celebrity culture of their day with newspapers following their antics. But their gaiety was often seen as forced and destructive --- a manic response to the loss of so many young lives in the trenches. In the United States, things were much lighter and looser. Despite the challenges that face the characters, a breezy tone of unprecedented freedom and opportunity marks Godbersen’s latest series.

BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS is not a stand-alone title. It ends with a cliffhanger where each of the three girls face a major decision about their lives. Will Astrid accept an offer for marriage? Can Letty pick herself up again after finding herself broke, unemployed and homeless? How will Cordelia handle becoming heiress to Darius Grey’s fortune and bootlegging operations? Readers will have to wait for the next book in the series to find out.

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on October 12, 2010

Bright Young Things
by Anna Godbersen

  • Publication Date: August 2, 2011
  • Genres: Romance
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0061962678
  • ISBN-13: 9780061962677