As may already be readily apparent, I read a lot. But I usually put off reading the Big Books—the books that have been gushed about and squeed over, lauded and praised—until a bit of time has gone by. That habit has something to do with wanting to avoid letting any sort of hype affect my opinion, positively or negatively, but it’s also due in part to my tendency towards contrariness: The more often I’m told to do something, the less prone I am to do it. Which is why I’m one of the few YA fans who’s still yet to read Libba Bray’s The Diviners.
All of which I thought about upon finishing Janet Fox’s Sirens, which is the OTHER fall YA title set in the 1920’s. (Hey, I never claimed to have a linear thought process.) While it’s being marketed as a read-alike for those who enjoyed The Diviners and fans of Anna Godbersen’s Bright Young Things series, I’d say that it has more in common with Judy Blundell’s historical fiction. Fox’s book isn’t quite as atmospheric as Blundell’s books*, and they’re set in different eras. But, like Blundell’s books, Sirens is far more character-driven than action-driven. (Which isn’t to say that nothing happens; boy howdy**, does it ever.)
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Sirens is narrated by two girls: Josephine Winter, an innocent, unfashionable and studious girl staying with her extended family in New York City, and Lou O’Keefe, gangster’s moll and flapper extraordinaire. In both characters, Fox takes a much-appreciated detour from the classic stock characters of ingénue and moll: Jo may be a fresh-faced country girl with somewhat idealistic notions, but she’s got a spine; and while Danny Connor certainly treats Lou as a moll (semi-abusively and, ultimately, as disposable), she has a heart, a mind and a conscience. Penguin uses different fonts*** for each voice, which is a nice-but-unnecessary touch as their voices are so very distinct from each other. Aspiring writer Jo is prone to more “literary” stylings, with a larger vocabulary, more use of description and metaphor; Lou is less educated, more canny, defiantly flirtatious...and clearly talking to a detective.
Yes, there’s a mystery here. It involves Jo’s supposedly dead brother, Lou’s gangster boyfriend, bootlegging, a bombing, missing pages from a journal, and more than a few Dark Secrets. All of which was quite fun, though it’s not why Sirens was a stand-out for me.
Take a closer look at the cover. At first glance, I assumed that it was just a girl in traditional flapper garb, what with the short hair, the sheath dress and the long strings of beads. After finishing the book, I flipped back to the cover and noticed that the beads were actually a collar and manacles—extremely fitting, considering the underlying discussion in Sirens about womens’ place in the world and in society, both in relation to men and themselves. The issues raised in this book—which, remember, is set almost 100 years ago—are frighteningly similar to many of those raised in the most recent election cycle. While that may sound scary and depressing, it isn’t. Rather, by the end, Sirens is a celebration of girl power, sisterhood, and hope for the future.
*Then again, are anyone’s?
***Judging by the review copy, so that’s subject to change.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.