In Flynn’s debut novel, a young girl reluctantly moves from the Midwest to San Francisco in 1904, only to fall in love with the vibrant young city and the possibilities it offers for amusement and success.
When Lily Anne O'Brien and her parents arrive in San Francisco, the headstrong girl, who’s “almost twelve,” isn’t happy to leave Chicago. Even before she arrives at her aunt and uncle’s home on Mission Street, however, she’s changed her mind completely: “San Francisco is a living, breathing opera to me!” she declares. “I want to live here forever!” Her determination to become a part of the growing city becomes the motivating factor of the rest of her life. In order to live with her aunt, uncle, and cousin, rather than follow her parents to a San Jose, California, farm, she agrees to train her lovely singing voice for actual opera, even though the training bores her. Charming and willful, she prefers sneaking out to supper clubs with Kevin Riley, a 27-year-old gambler who falls for her at first sight. When her parents attempt to intervene in the relationship, she impulsively marries him, although she’s really only in love with all the things he can give her. Flynn depicts Lily Anne as beautiful, talented, charismatic, and deeply selfish—a woman who consistently makes life choices—as a wife, a mother, an entertainer, and an entrepreneur—based on her own self-interest and her resolve never to leave the city she loves. Her story and those of her family members and friends evolve against the backdrop of San Francisco history, including the frightening destruction of the 1906 earthquake and subsequent rebuilding, the Prohibition era, and the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. The story ties up some of its romantic loose ends a bit too neatly, and there are a number of racist comments by characters that go unchallenged in the narrative. However, Flynn’s style is engaging and accessible, and the story of the irrepressible Lily Anne (and later, her sensible daughter, Charlotte) will pull readers along to the very end.
A highly readable historical tale with a memorable heroine in the mold of Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara.