When I picked this on NetGalley, it seemed like it was going to be a grown-up Eloise kind of story — two young girls, 14 and 17, are “summoned” by their aunt to New York for the summer. I loved the old-fashioned feel of the cover – two lovely sisters holding hands, practically spinning through an Audrey-Hepburn New York.
But something about this is just a little off. It tries so hard for old-world elegance, but it comes off as far-fetched. Did I mention that their aunt is out of town? And that she sends them letters instead of coming home? That she left them in the care of a chaperone? There are reasons for this, but I was too stuck on wondering what kind of parents send their kids across the country to visit an aunt who is not really an aunt, and also, by the way, someone the girls have never even met.
If you are reading this and you are fourteen, maybe it is paradise, this summer vacation. The older-than-her-years chaperone is eager to teach them how to live dignified, civilized lives. (The chaperone, by the way, has the last word on what is in or out when it comes to dressing, speaking, and living in New York City, which is very wearying.)
I was disappointed because this could have been a sweet middle grade story. Instead, I don’t really know what it is. As a parent, there are just too many bizarre scenes in it, that I know my daughters would find creepy. (The 14 year old is sent to lunch alone with an older man she’s never met, for one.) And even saying that makes me feel like a prude, which I resent! It is almost as if this was written as a middle grade book, and then someone said, you know, if you change the ages of the characters, and add some conversations about sex, this could be YA. So, the 17 year old falls in love, and, to encourage this, the chaperone takes them all lingerie shopping. (Always a tourist spot for us when we go to New York, right after the M&M store.) The parts that tread in YA territory seem forced and out of place here. For one thing, all of the old movies I loved, the ones this book wants so desperately to emulate, were all about subtlety.
After I read this book, I looked up Silver, who wrote a memoir entitled, Charlotte au Chocolat. The New York Times, in their review, quoted her “Our lives, while always unstable, were always also beautiful,” she explains. “The veneer of things, the shimmer of them, mattered.” Then they added, “It’s a childhood lesson she has perhaps taken too much to heart, since her book is all veneer and shimmer.” So now, it makes more sense. The quirky characters, the odd circumstances, perhaps they were real. But sadly, I didn't see a whole lot behind the shimmer here either.