Review: Ingenue by Jillian Larkin

Ingenue (Flappers #2)
Jillian Larkin

Random House Children's Books (2011)
368 pages
YA / Historical Romance

Purchase it at Amazon

I’m not entirely sure how to review Ingenue.  On the surface it’s not my kind of book – there aren’t any spaceships or monsters, no one explodes, magical superspies are scarce, and there isn’t a robot anywhere to be seen.  What it does have are four – yes, FOUR – plucky teenage female protagonists, the various gentlemen they love and hate, drama galore and a couple of mobsters roaming around trying to kill people.  And yet there’s something about Jillian Larkin’s Flappers series that I really do enjoy.  The first in the series, Vixen, was probably the biggest reading surprise I had last year and I only picked it up because of a book group.  Ingenue was more of the same while being completely different and remaining as fun as the first.

Warning: Spoilers for Vixen ahead

As Ingenue opens, our three protagonists from the previous novel – Gloria, her cousin Clara, and her former best friend Lorraine – are out of touch with each other and have all found themselves in New York City for one reason or another.  Gloria ran off with Jerome, her black piano-playing boyfriend, after shooting a mobster in Chicago at the end of the previous book.  Lorraine is running a mob-owned speakeasy, thinking she’s working towards harmless revenge on her former friend.  And Clara is trying to stay away from her former life as a flapper while still continuing her romance with the fancy-pants Marcus (who is not in this book nearly enough).

If the terms “speakeasy”, “mobster”, and “flapper” didn’t give it away, I should probably mention this is all taking place in 1924.  And there’s what eventually hooked me.  I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but the 1920s have always fascinated me.  It’s one of the places I would visit if I had a time machine.

The drama and action start from the very first page of the prologue when a nameless, faceless female character gets instructions to kill the three main male players of the previous book – wealthy banker Sebastian (Gloria’s former fiancée), creepy mobster Carlito (whose man Gloria killed) and Jerome (who used to work in Carlito’s club in Chicago).  In Vixen the mysterious female in the prologue ended up being one of our main characters.  In Ingenue the mystery and suspense of the prologue doesn’t really play out in quite as an exciting way; it just sets all the pieces into motion when our fourth protagonist Vera, Jerome’s younger sister, sees the unnamed assassin kill Sebastian and rushes to New York to warn her brother.

The entire book is told in chapters alternating between the adventures of the four girls, staying in the same order throughout, so that the pacing still feels constant even though you as the reader are jumping between plotlines and stories that stopped on cliffhangers three chapters before.  This is always where Larkin has impressed me the most.  It takes some talent to weave that many stories, telling them in spurts and it still all flow seamlessly together.  Yes, some of the stories of the four girls do cross, but more often than not, they’re leading four separate adventures that only involve the other characters in the peripheral.

All these characters have naturally grown, some even learning from the mistakes of the previous book.  All are compelling narrators and I can believe the choices they choose to make.  Clara is the girl I wish I was at 18.  She’s the girl I wish I was now.  She’s confident, outgoing and willing to make sacrifices to get what she wants.  She’s the type of protagonist I like to read.  Gloria, on the other hand, is love sick and grumpy from entering poverty after growing up with a silver spoon yet I still enjoy her character too.  She has goals, but above all, she loves Jerome in a world where that isn’t allowed and she doesn’t care.  Then there’s dopey, airheaded Lorraine.  I hated her much less in this novel than the last, but she still comes across as self-centered and oblivious to how the world actually works.  I felt some satisfaction at watching all her plans fall apart.

Vera is the least developed, probably because she didn’t have her own story in Vixen, but she still comes alive as the worried little sister, whose ingenuity and gumption probably save everyone in the end.  The gentlemen in the story are minor roles compared to the girls, but even then, they’re realistic and nice, boys worthy of the attention given them.  I want to be friends with all of these people (maybe even Lorraine) and go to swanky illegal bars and dance like a crazy person.  That’s the genius in this series.  It’s so real that I want to crawl inside this book and take a vacation there.  Larkin did her research and she puts it to great use.

This book starts and never stops.  I wish I could have devoted more time to it and read it faster because I feel that I would have increased my enjoyment.  There’s romance, but no cheesy annoying love triangles.  All the characters are distinctive personalities and above all everything makes sense.  Yes, some events happen off screen due to the narrating device of four points of view, but Larkin uses pure exposition sparingly and disguises it pretty well so it fits in without interrupting the flow.  I never felt like I’d missed anything even though some pretty interesting things happen “off screen”.

And the ending is quite possibly even more of a doozy than Vixen’s was.  No spoilers, but the story of Ingenue feels complete yet there’s a huge door kicked open for the next in the series that will possibly spin it in a different direction.

So yes, Ingenue and the Flappers series in general are completely different from my usual reading choices, but I love them just the same.  I would recommend this to anyone that likes historical fiction, YA romance, and/or just a good book with believable characters in exciting situations.  I’ve already added book three, Diva, to my calendar for a Waiting on Wednesday feature.

B+

Fast paced with real characters in a vivid and well-researched setting; story telling uses four points of view and yet nothing falls between the cracks; take me to there!

 

I received a copy of this book from the library.  It has the thick plastic cover and everything!  Sadly, I must give it back.