Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
In The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty, Louise Brooks is a young free spirit who doesn’t care what society thinks of her. Cora Carlisle, on the other hand, is a middle-aged married woman with unflinching morals. In 1922, Louise makes an important trip to New York with Cora as her traveling companion. It is a journey that will profoundly change both women forever.

In the late 1920s, everyone knew Louise Brooks as a world-famous silent film star. She was beautiful. She was troubled, and she was the woman who made the “bob” haircut a cultural phenomenon. 

But in 1922, Louise was a 15-year-old girl who hated living in Wichita, KS, because it was old-fashioned, restrictive, and one big dead end. It was a feeling that Cora Carlisle didn’t share. She mostly found Wichita comforting with its small-town attitude and sense of community. 

That summer, with Cora as her chaperone, Louise escapes to New York to attend classes at the Denishawn School of Dance. Louise's ambition is to become a member of the Denishawn Dance Company so that she does not have to return to Wichita. 

Cora's purpose, however, and real reason for coming to New York is to find the identity of her birth parents. As a small child, Cora had been dumped at the Home For Friendless Girls in New York, residing there until she was eventually put on an orphan train and shipped off to Kansas for adoption. 

As an eight-year-old girl, the trip had frightened Cora, and now as a thirty-six-year-old grown woman, she wanted answers. By the end of the summer, both women are successful at reaching their goals, but things will not turn out as either woman planned. 

Before you begin reading The Chaperone, you should know that the novel mostly focuses on the fictional character Cora with Louise as almost a secondary character. The Chaperone is not a biography of Louise's life, but author Laura Moriarty does do a great job of blending Cora's fabricated life with fascinating details of Louise's true story. 

The Chaperone, which was published in 2012, has also been divided up into three chronological sections that easily flow into each other, and the writing style has an elegant ease that makes the book feel seamless when reading it. In fact, it is that easy writing style that makes the book hard to put down. 

The author of The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty, lives in Lawrence, KS, and teaches creative writing at the University of Kansas. She is the author of several other novels including The Rest of Her Life and While I'm Falling.

So, if you are still looking for an absorbing novel to round out your spring reading list or perhaps looking to read a novel by a local author, then The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty is it. 

Additionally, if you want to learn more about Louise Brooks, check out LuLu In Hollywood, which is the autobiography of Louise Brooks.


  1. Amy, on your recommendation, I checked out the book from the Westport library, and I'm so glad I did! It's fascinating, both because of the time period, the orphan trains, and the tie-in to the real-life Louise Brooks. I haven't quite finished it, and I can't wait to get back to it tonight. By tomorrow I'll be ready for our book-club-of-two. Name the time and the coffee shop!

  2. I am so glad you liked it, and you are right - part of what makes this story so fascinating is that it creates discussion about so many interesting historical topics. You named a lot of them, but also think about how the book explores the increasing and changing rights of women at that time - they now had the right to vote, etc., plus they were gaining more sexual freedom.

    By the way, if you liked this book, you might be interested in Above All Things by Tanis Rideout. It is fairly new and is a historical fiction novel about George Mallory and his 1924 attempt to climb Mt. Everest. Intertwined within that story is the love story between George and his wife. It's pretty good.

    Happy Reading!