Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

Fantastic title.  Beautiful cover.  Intriguing premise.  How could I resist picking up The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets?  I was not disappointed.  It is a well written, fun, fluffy read that takes you into the world of the slightly impovershed sect of the British upper class in 1950's London. 

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Tall, blonde, and relatively inexperienced, Penelope inhabits, along with her mother and a younger brother, her father's ancestral home: a large estate outside London that looks like something "out of Thomas Hardy." All is not well in the household, however. Penelope's mother, a war widow, is having a difficult time making ends meet, and their once-magnificent home, requisitioned during the war, is in serious need of a face-lift. Unwilling to dwell on their financial troubles, she would rather head out to Selfridges on a shopping spree than face the dire state of affairs at home.  But Penelope's chance encounter with a social-climbing young Londoner named Charlotte shakes up their circumscribed life, as Penelope and her brother, Inigo, are quickly swept up in a social whirl of parties, teas, and the art of romance.
Author, Eva Rice, has a power with words.  From the first page of the novel I felt the time and setting perfectly.  The images she evoked made it as if I had been plunged into an Audrey Hepburn movie.  It is even more impressive as Rice manages this using mostly dialogue in this opening scene.  The novel is solid historical fiction.  I didn't notice any anachronisms, but I am not an expert on this time period either.   It is interesting because, while there are plenty of novels and movies depicting U.S. young adults in the 1950's, we often don't see British young adults in the same setting.  They are obsessed with American culture but still very English in their mannerisms and customs.  The pictuer of how the two were melding is an interesting one.
More than being good historical fiction, this is a coming of age story.  Penelope is a young girl who is letting other people make her decsions and allowing circumstances to sweep her along.  Through the events of the story she learns to change and step out of her comfort zone a little.  She makes mistakes and seems oblivious to what is going on in her own heart as is typical of all girls her age, no matter the time  period.

I also enjoyed the depiction of friendship between Penelope and Charlotte.  Despite  Charlotte's desire to see and experience more of Penelope's world a genuine friendship develops between them that is not at all petty or artificial.  This book is wonderfully lacking in melodrama and angst despite some of the romantic uncertainties going on.  It is a nice breath of fresh air in YA literature.

Interesting fact:  For any Broadway fans out there, Eva Rice is lyricist Tim Rice's daughter.

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