My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I like reading historical fiction because it is an interesting way to learn history and it teaches you that no matter the societal protocol of the time people are the same. That’s why we have the seven deadly sins after all. If you are a churchgoer you have accepted that people are sinners; that they are fallible. And yet we accept images of respectability for people in particular eras.
That’s what Jillian Larkin has created in her new series The Flappers. The first book, called “Vixen”, starts with the image of high society and young private school girls of incredible wealth. But all that prim and proper respectability has restrained the energy of romantic beautiful girls and, like little kids let loose at recess when the girls get a taste of freedom, they run fast. In 1923 that means finding the most hush-hush speakeasy in Chicago and pretending that they are no longer high school seniors but dames with worldly Flapper bobs. But speakeasies aren’t just popular for the illegal liquor they serve. They’re filled with dangerous gangsters, smooth jazz players, and venomous women jealous of another pretty face.
I picked up Vixen while browsing the local library and was actually surprised when I got home to discover this was a young adult book. The rather grown up Flapper on the cover never gave me a high school impression at all. But I had never read a novel set in the roaring 20’s and I thought this would be an exciting new period. The hard part was, I didn’t like any of the characters. They worked hard to not want anyone to like them either. It seems to be a theme of the 20’s to be verbally shallow and mean to other people. Maybe that’s a trait of the rich. Or maybe it’s the high school immaturity showing through. However, by the end of the novel, people were showing some warmth, and the mystery of the series started to show itself. But it all seemed to take too long.
The book centers on several women (and their associated men). Gloria is the perfect society daughter from a newly rich family about to marry one of Chicago’s most eligible bachelors, but she longs for something different, something more, something that will make her heart sing. Clara is Gloria’s cousin visiting Chicago to help with Gloria’s wedding, but really she is there to start a new life of respectability since she’s already a ruined woman back home. Gloria’s best friend’s parents are too busy living up the roaring 20’s to pay any attention to their daughter, Lorraine, so it is no wonder that Lorraine starts to panic when she realizes that once Gloria gets married she’ll be truly alone. And then there is Vera, the ultimate sexy Flapper working at the speakeasy who has nothing but contempt for Gloria the second they meet. They are four beautiful girls but darn if I can tell you which one is the vixen. Maybe they all are?
Like its female characters, I felt like Vixen was playing dress up but never really became the book that it had the potential to be. There were too many unanswered questions, too many stray characters walking through, too much life not yet lived which could not be expressed on its pages. Maybe the author needs the rest of the series to express it, but again it seems too long for these fast living girls to grow up.
I’d still like to read a book set in the 20’s, because I don’t think that the Flappers series is going to have me doing the Charleston anytime soon.