My mom picked up this book by Marie-Helene Bertino when we were on vacation a few years ago. I thought it sounded interesting, so I stole it and it sat on my book shelf for a few years before I finally got around to reading it this past Christmas. I’m glad I managed to return it to my mom before she died, but, unfortunately, not before she got a chance to read it. By that point her concentration was on the way out and she was having a hard time reading much of anything, and she hadn’t gotten around to finishing any of the books she had started over the past several months.
I snagged this one largely because of the title, which I thought made it sound like a book set in the 1920s, but I was mistaken. It takes place around the time it was written – in the early 2000s – and I had heard it was a modern retelling of the princesses who sneak off to go dancing in a magical land all night long every night, but I’m not so sure. I think it’s quite a stretch to connect this plot to that fairy tale.
This book focuses on three different main characters: Madeleine Altimari, whose mother has recently died and whose father has sunk into such a deep depression he doesn’t come out of his room anymore. But, although it’s never explicitly stated how her mother died, it must have been some sort of long-term illness because she had time to make just about everyone in the neighborhood promise to take care of her daughter and they all loved her enough to stick by that promise.
Madeleine is an aspiring singer who lives by words of advice her mother left her: how to sing, how to be productive, etc. She’s also a student at a local private school in Philadelphia where she doesn’t have any friends because she’s kind of mean to everyone and doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. On the last day before Christmas break, she’s denied the opportunity to sing at the school assembly, which she had been looking forward to immensely, then she loses her chance to taste a caramel apple for the first them, and finally a bully pushes her to the edge, so she punches him in the nose and gets expelled. Her teacher, Sarina Greene, is sure Madeleine is not entirely at fault, but it’s not her decision, so her hands are tied.
Sarina decides to go to a Christmas party with friends she hasn’t seen for ages, only to find out too late that her old crush will be there. He’s been married for a few years now, and she feels like the odd one out at the party, but her old crush still kind of has the hots for her and his marriage is on the outs (although that’s a secret). They end up wandering around the city all night and end up at a jazz club called The Cat’s Pajamas.
Meanwhile, Lorca, who inherited The Cat’s Pajamas from his father, has problems of his own. He’s in debt, about to lose the club, and the multiple citations the local police officer keeps giving the club aren’t helping matters any.
Somehow, these three all end up at The Cat’s Pajamas at midnight on the night of December 23rd (or the morning of December 24th, depending on how you look at it). Madeleine finally gets a chance to sing in front of an audience, blows them away, and earns the club another citation for being open after 2 a.m. (hence the title) and for accidentally profiting off the work of a minor.
This book was sadder than I had been expecting from a Christmas book. Madeleine’s story in particular is heartbreaking, and that was before I lost my own mom. But it has a happy(ish?) ending, is very well written, and I felt for all the characters in this book, so I still recommend it.
What did you read this week? Anything else that didn’t turn out the way you expected?