The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, by Genevieve Valentine (Atria Books, 2014). $24, ISBN: 9781476739083
Recommended for ages 14+
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a reimagining of the fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, set in the Jazz Age. Jo, the oldest – known as “The General” to her sisters – and her 11 sisters are all but prisoners, locked in their businessman father’s townhome. Ashamed that his marriage couldn’t produce a son, he hides his daughters from the world, homeschooling them and giving them a small amount of money toward living expenses, like clothes and shoes. Their mother died, leaving Jo to watch over all of them. Their cold, standoffish father periodically sends for Jo to give him updates, but never spends time with his daughters.
Jo’s had enough. At first, she sneaks out to movie theatres, where she falls in love with dancing. She learns the moves, and teaches them to her sisters. And then, they start going out at night. As each of them are old enough, they join Jo, Lou, and the rest of their sisters, until all 11 girls wait for Jo’s nightly signal, sneak into cabs outside, and head for the speakeasies, where they dance their nights away. They live to dance and flirt, and Jo watches over all of them.
But nothing can last forever. The father has decided to start quickly and quietly marrying them off, and he expects Jo’s help in getting the job done. The time is coming for Jo to make decisions that will change all of their lives forever.
The Roaring Twenties is really a perfect setting for a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and Ms. Valentine’s description of the nights out, dancing in the speakeasies, the clothes, and the music really placed me in the setting. One issue I had with the book is that, with so many characters, it was hard to “know” anyone but Jo. We get a very good idea of who she is, but the character development is really just touched on with the other sisters. The narrative sometimes slows down a bit too much, but it’s only because it’s leading to a literary explosion, a little more than halfway through, where I couldn’t put the book down. The tension between Jo and her father, when it finally comes to a head, is fantastic.
The book hits bookstores on June 4, and I think it’s a great summer read for teens. In an age when so many fairy tales are being remade for younger audiences, like Frozen’s retelling of The Snow Queen, we shouldn’t forget that teen readers can enjoy fairy tales, too. It’s also a great look into a prominent decade in American pop culture.