31 August 2012
Series: No, standalone
UK Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
UK Release date: August 2012
Genre: Historical YA
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review
It’s 1923 and London is a whirl of jazz, dancing and parties. Violet, Daisy, Poppy and Rose Derrington are desperate to be part of it, but stuck in an enormous crumbling house in the country, with no money and no fashionable dresses, the excitement seems a lifetime away.
Luckily the girls each have a plan for escaping their humdrum country life: Rose wants to be a novelist, Poppy a jazz musician and Daisy a famous film director. Violet, however, has only one ambition: to become the perfect Debutante, so that she can go to London and catch the eye of Prince George, the most eligible bachelor in the country.
But a house as big and old as Beech Grove Manor hides many secrets, and Daisy is about to uncover one so huge it could ruin all their plans—ruin everything—forever.
Although Debutantes is a historical fiction, I felt it a little hard to categorise as part of the swinging jazz era. Yes, it's the 1920s, jazz is up and coming, and fashion is changing to short skirts and bobbed hair. But there was still a feel of the Victorian tradition to it: family standing and inheritance by the eldest son is still common, and debutantes have coming out parties and are presented to the Queen. There was quite a lot of cross over between the two periods, particularly for the Derrington family. The four sisters redesigned old fashioned gowns to short dresses and skirts and they have to fight their old fashioned aunt and father who can often be stuck in their ways.
I found this mix of eras a little surprising and disconcerting at first, but the story also an exciting edge to it, as women were becoming more independent and could go out to work and earn their own living. Daisy's dream of becoming a film director and Rose's dream of becoming a journalist were real future options to them, but would not have been an option for women in a time not long before that.
Each of the four sisters had a very distinct personality. I liked Poppy, Daisy and Rose who each had their own ideas for making their way in the world and wanted to do things because they enjoy it. Poppy was passionate about jazz and her music, Rose constantly created and worked with words, making amusing little taglines to what was happening at any given moment, and Daisy filmed on her movie camera. Out of the sisters, I would say Violet was my least favourite, because she was moody, intent on marrying for money and wanted all the best material things. I think she became a better person as the story went on, but at the start of the book I was slightly bothered about the constant concern of being poor and desire to marry into a wealthy family.
The story was written from Daisy's perspective, who was very astute at understanding other people and their individual habits, and as the reader you get to an insight into each of the sister's lives. The plot was interesting, with twists and turns, romance and parties. The ending was slightly predictable, but overall I found it to be an enjoyable read. There were different mysteries and clues that had to be pieced together, which gave the story different elements beyond Violet's debutante season. If you like fashion, then you will love reading about the sister's redesign of old clothes, the parties they went to and their trips to London.
Debutantes is a lighthearted, fun read set in a time where everything is changing and there is plenty of fashion, romance, fun and frolicking.