It’s just a few short hours until the Cybils nominations open at midnight PST on October 1! Be thinking of your favorite children’s books from the last year to nominate, and take a look at the rules on the Cybils blog! (Thanks for making me laugh out loud at work, Anne!)
How could I resist another 12 Dancing Princesses retelling?
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. Atria Books, 2014
In 1920s Manhattan, there is a group of glamorous girls who show up at the speakeasies for dancing. People call them all “Princess”, as they don’t tell anyone their names. They don’t put up with any misbehavior on the part of their dance partners – but can they ever dance!
From an opening with a mythic feel describing the sisters from the point of view of the men in the clubs, we turn to the background story. Joseph Hamilton, a self-made addition to Manhattan’s upper class, needed a son to secure his legacy. His wife bore him daughter after daughter until she died. As his disappointment mounted, he got more and more restrictive, firing the governesses and no longer letting them go for walks (only ever permitted in groups of two or three) so that no one would comment on his large family. Jo, the oldest daughter, sensed her rebellious next older sister about to crack at the sounds of the dances next door they weren’t allowed to attend. Terrified that she would do something that would bring their father down, Jo started taking them out dancing, looking carefully for clubs where they wouldn’t be photographed. What started with just the oldest sisters going out expanded as the younger sisters grew old enough to come along. Life was tenuous, but bearable, the glitter of the nights balancing the bleak days.
Then their father decided to marry them off.
I’d heard good things about this, and I was not disappointed. 1920s Manhattan, dark and glittering, torn between old and new attitudes towards women, was brought to life. I was literally lying in bed at night worried about the characters, even when I’d last read about them over my lunch break. The hardest parts of any 12 Dancing Princesses retelling are keeping the large cast from blurring together and giving them real motivation for all that dancing. This was a great success on both counts. There are also some good men to balance out the abusive father, but – thankfully – they are not rescuers of helpless girls. This might not work for fans of fairy tale retellings who want actual magic in their retellings – but it is gorgeous dark historical fiction.