Saturday, April 9, 2011

Book Report: The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

I wouldn't be me if I wasn't drawn in by this cover: give me girls in colorful 50s gowns and gloves, telling secrets as the title suggests and I'm there!

And while the cover fits, there's a lot more to The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets than fashion and gossip.  Set in 1950s England, it's about being part of the generation that were only children when the war ended.  Our narrator, Penelope Wallace, is young, "six foot with my shoes on," and lives with her beautiful mother and teddy boy brother in a grand house that fell into disrepair during the war.  Penelope is level-headed and somewhat unadventurous, but like many teenage girls, she's obsessed with the singer Johnnie Ray.

After a chance invitation to tea at a bus stop, Penelope befriends the spunky Charlotte Ferris and Pen's quiet life changes for good.  Charlotte is outgoing, spirited, and totally loveable; the girls share a love of Johnnie Ray and quickly become best friends.  Charlotte introduces Penelope to her cousin Harry.  Soon after their meeting, Penelope finds herself agreeing to accompany Harry to a party to make his ex-girlfriend jealous.  But will their friendship remain just friendship?

The book focuses on Penelope's family, also, which I found lovely.  After a dreaded "duck supper," Penelope and her brother Inigo learn that the family is broke and that their ancient, grand house, Magna, won't be restored to it's former grandeur.  Their young mother, married at 17 and a widow at 23, hesitates to even speak to another man (even a charming and handsome American who's very interested and very rich!).  Inigo, her little brother, is getting in trouble at boarding school for listening to rock and roll on the radio; after receiving a record from his American uncle, Inigo cultivates a growing obsession with a new American singer, Elvis Presley, and hopes to make his living as a musician.

That's about the full cast (though I neglected to mention the fabulous Aunt Clare, Harry's mother).  There are so many things to like about the plot, which has a sweet romance, but also focuses on Penelope and Charlotte's best friendship and the Wallace family's struggles living in Magna.  Much of the book is about the changes in post-war England: Charlotte plans on designing and selling clothes in her own shop, Inigo wants to move to America to become a musician, Mrs. Wallace overcomes her resistance to Americans, and Penelope is allowed to fall for someone who isn't rich.

It's a simple book and a quick read, but there's a lot to think about and enjoy inside.  If you're looking for a sweet book with a little romance, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is a great choice!