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Bright Young Things

January 7, 2011

It must be admitted that my weakness for girls in pretty dresses has led to some pretty poor decisions. But it’s okay, because they didn’t do any permanent damage because we’re (just) talking about books. The only damage happening was up there.

It must also be admitted that when Bright Young Things fell into my lap, tagged with ‘gorgeous socialites’, ‘flappers’ and ‘scandal’, and likened to Gossip Girl, I thought uh oh. As a rule without exception, I abhor scandal; I can live without flappers, and I doubt I could ever strike up a conversation with a socialite, gorgeous or otherwise. And Gossip Girl? Twelve kinds of twisted. Not my kind of book, no thank you.

O thou hasty in judgement! Anna Godbersen writes genuinely beautiful prose. It’s a pleasure to read the way jam is a pleasure to lick off your paws. With that kind of marketing, I never would have guessed, which is the reason that every time I picked up Luxe (‘ooo pretty dress!), I put it right back down again.

‘If she could have foreseen everything that was to happen in the next couple of weeks, how sleepless and manic and full they would be, she might have tried to get some rest, too. But her eyes were wild, and there was so much electricity in every corner of her head and heart – she was too alive with awake dreams…she wanted to see the sun coming up in another state, and everything else the world had been holding out of her reach.’

General summary: Bright Young Things is set in New York City in the last summer before the Depression hit, while Prohibition is still in force, and follows the stories of three young women. Cordelia and Letty leave their small Ohio town for New York City, where Cordelia searches for the father she’s never met (who turns out to be a notorious and rich bootlegger). Letty, her best friend, has ambitions for fame which take her to unexpected and sometimes unpleasant places. And in New York, they meet the perfect and poised Astrid (and despite that according to the blurb, she is ‘hiding secrets’, it’s not yet clear what her deal is), who is a puzzling mix of softness and steel.

I’m not exactly sure I would recommend this, because it does have sticky moments, but I was surprised by the lovely and evocative vividness of the writing (I will most definitely be reading the next one). And as ever, because books aren’t read in a vacuum and also because I hate writing reviews and have a sad inability to stay on-subject, the story’s themes picked at thoughts in my own head, like Cordelia’s relationship with her father, and the part where he tells her not to do something, she thinks she knows better and does it anyway, and Bad Things happen. There is also a strong thread of family loyalty and how you can dislike someone but you can’t beat the genetically hard-wired sense of something (be that duty, possessiveness, love, whatever) out of yourself despite it all. It’s like Emily found:

‘Emily was up against one of the contradictions of human nature. She was learning that you may fight with your kin – disapprove of them – even hate them, but that there is a bond between you for all that. Somehow, your very nerves and sinews are twisted with theirs. Blood is always thicker than water. Let an outsider attack – that’s all.’

‘Thicker Than Water’, Emily Climbs.

I thought about that a lot, especially because of the unlikely connection between Cordelia and her new-found brother, who met and disliked each other as strangers, but when they discover they are siblings, have to reconcile their initial dislike with the fact of their relatedness. Family relationships are a little underrated in a lot of teenage fiction, and where it is written, it isn’t always convincing – it’s more like a boring sideshow (that even the AUTHOR finds boring) when really you want to know about THE BOY and will he live happily after after having wooed and won THE GIRL? It’s a little silly, but there you are. But well-portrayed complicated family relationships = win. Especially since I’ve also been watching Gilmore Girls*, which revolves around the daughter-mother-daughter relationships (and family relationships in general). A lot of work has to go into making it work. As Lorelai tells Rory, ‘We have to talk, always. Our particular special thing only works if we agree to that.’

I’ve been staring at the word ‘daughter’ and reading and re-reading it. It is such a strange little word. Daughter. Dawter. Door-ta. Dawta? Dogtar. Dog star? Dot. Dotty. Dottir. Dottore. Dogtor. It becomes more and more meaningless with every repetition…try it. No, go on, really. It’s trippy.

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen, bestselling author of the Luxe novels, was released by Penguin Razorbill yesterday. For more information, or to read an extract, visit

Quotes are taken from ‘Bright Young Things’, by Anna Godbersen, supplied to The Rock Pool for review by Razorbill, an imprint of the Penguin Group.

* Conversation-starved junkie seeks fellow junkie to talk Gilmore Girls with: apply anywhere. Rigorous conversation skills desired, will pay in kind.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 9, 2011 12:11 am

    I’ll suggest this to Constructive Attitude 🙂 I love LOVE books, but thanks to studying I don’t have the time. Thanks for the review and I think I’ll be sticking this on to my ever growing list of books to read.

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