The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
More than the beautiful writing and the wonderful character portraits drawn in this book, I loved the message contained in these pages. In the telling of this story about Cora, a woman with grown children who volunteers to chaperone a bratty teenager, Louise Brooks, to New York City in her quest for stardom, the author so articulately writes the wisdom that the generations can learn from each other. Cora begins as a fairly stodgy and righteous old coot who is very concerned about maintaining her charge’s reputation. Louise, on the other hand, is determined to act out and rebel against all of this and does not care at all what anyone thinks. As the story progresses, however, they both learn that they need to do what they can to make themselves happy and that staying with the status quo does not always accomplish that.
The reader cannot help loving Cora, who is very human and very wise. There are dilemmas and difficulties in her life that are not what she ever anticipates, but she finds a way to cope and find happiness. She, in her own way, becomes something of a rebellious one, and she accepts change more than even she would have ever imagined.
The book is also historical fiction, giving the reader a close-up of the small town perspective on the 1920’s through the second world war and beyond. The social evolution that Cora is a part of is very reflective of the changes occurring during these radical times. And while Cora is a victim of some of the early prejudices, she becomes something of an instrument of change in her later years. Her understanding of the urgency for this change to occur is so beautifully summed up by my favorite quote in the book, “she would owe this understanding to her time in New York, and even more to Louise. That’s what spending time with the young can do — it’s the big payoff for all the pain. the young can exasperate, of course, and frighten, and condescend, and insult, and cut you with their still unrounded edges. But they can also drag you, as you protest and scold and try to pull away, right up the the window of the future, and even push you through.”