A young woman is torn between her church's principles and her passion for secular music—and a forbidden love—in Schreck’s delicately tuned debut set in Depression-era Chicago.
Raised in the Danish-Baptist Church, Rose Sorensen sings popular songs from the radio when she thinks no one's around. She revels in the rich tones of Mahalia Jackson and yearns for the freedom to sing openly, but she knows her parents would disapprove. Her family was once affluent, but now her dour father manages tenement buildings, which Rose cleans, and they live in a cramped apartment. Rose's 14-year-old sister, Sophy, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, is Rose's biggest supporter, encouraging her to be happy and sing whatever she wants. Her cousin Rob also understands Rose's passion, and for her 21st birthday, he takes her on a covert outing to Calliope’s, a jazz club that welcomes blacks and whites. Rose’s life is transformed. Defying her parents, she secretly becomes lead singer for the Chess Men, an interracial band, and falls in love with black pianist Theo Chastain. Rose’s life sways back and forth between the club and Theo—who often pretends to be Rose’s driver to mask their relationship from others—and her role as dutiful daughter, continuing to sing at church and feigning interest in an acceptable suitor. Inevitably, Rose’s two worlds collide, and she and Theo have to make decisions about the Chess Men and their future. Schreck delivers an articulate, well-researched story with an inspirational message about following your dreams; and her passion for the era, its music and her characters is unmistakable.
Hits all the right notes.