Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book Report: The Luxe, ect.

If you've read Edith Wharton (and truly, you should), you know that turn-of-the-century, high-class Manhattan was as full of scandal as turn-of-the-other-century Gossip Girl Manhattan. There's the same wealth, the same manipulation, and the same struggle to find true love within a society so concerned with appearances.

It's with that idea that Anna Godberson created The Luxe, a series of young adult novels that read just like Gossip Girl: 1899. The novels focus on a group of wealthy Manhattan teenagers, each of whom has a secret or two. . .

There's It Girl Elizabeth Holland, our old-timey Serena van der Woodsen, who radiates goodness and propriety but has a secret love. Her sister, Diana, an impulsive, romantic, Jenny Humphrey-type, who dreams of life beyond the confines of Manhattan society, but finds herself in love with society's bad boy, Henry Schoonmaker (aka not-as-cool Chuck Bass). The Holland sister's maid, Lina, who resents her place in life and learns that the way up may involve betraying her former employers. And finally, our Queen B, Penelope Hayes, a girl from a new-money family who stops at nothing to get a prominent place in society and the man (Henry) who goes with it.

The connections to Gossip Girl provide a familiar framework for the teenagers who don't normally read historical fiction. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a society column or etiquette book that ties in with the following pages; like Gossip Girl, the gossip columns sometimes create expectations or realities that wouldn't exist otherwise.

Unfortunately, The Luxe shares another characteristic of the Gossip Girl books: the writing often gets in the way of character development and plot. The dialogue suffers occasionally when it drops from 1899 formality to more modern speech. In places, the historical details feel tacked-on, rather than organic to the setting. And while it's sparkly and scandalous, don't expect much more than a superficial glance into the lives of 1899 Manhattan's elite.

Having said that, don't think that I didn't enjoy this series - I will be reading the final book, Splendor, when in comes out in October, for certain (I have to know if Diana and Henry will finally be together and if Lina finally discovers that wealth doesn't always equal happiness!).

All in all, it's a fun way to wile away a few summer hours, daydreaming about wearing the book-jacket dresses to a fancy Fifth Avenue ball.