I am 100% positive that if I was a young adult during the roaring 20s, I’d totally be a flapper. This notion is purely based on the things I’ve read in YA books. After reading The Diviners by Libba Bray, I sort of felt as though I NEEDED to read more 1920s-set books and I had the desperate hope that this would become a new ‘thing’ in YA. Lucky me, Sirens by Janet Fox had EXACTLY what I was looking for and was a nice, non-paranormal book to read after The Diviners. Sirens has: flappers, strong women, books, speakeasies, gangsters, and THE ALGONQUIN! AHH! This is the sort of read where if you are on your kindle, you rapidly click the next arrow to get to what happens next because there’s a lot of unraveling to be done.
Josie, main character of Sirens has big dreams. She’s not quite a flapper and is quite a ‘nice girl’. However, she wants to leave her small upstate town and go to college to become a writer someday. She wants to be able to earn her own money. Yet, there’s a few wrenches in her plans. First off, her brother Teddy, who fought in WWI faked his death because a gangster named Danny Conner is after him and Josie has no idea why, but she has to keep the secret. Danny’s closing in though and has realized that Teddy isn’t quite dead. When Danny shows up threatening Josie’s bootlegging father, it is decided that Josie will be sent to New York City to live with her upper crust aunt and uncle. FYI, her aunt and uncle live next door to the Algonquin. Flush with the excitement of the city and new clothes and makeup from her cousin Melody, Josie gets her hair bobbed, and it turns out under all that hair she’s mad hot. She catches the eyes of a few men — including the infamous Danny Connor!
AND DID I MENTION THIS BOOK IS TOLD IN DUAL POINT OF VIEWS. Like, right now you are only hearing about Josie, however her story collides and intertwines with that of Lou. Lou ‘Louise’ is Danny Conner’s moll aka girlfriend. Her chapters are told as though she’s recounting what has happened to a detective. Her story is very much flashback and emotion. And frankly, Lou has spark even though she does not always make the greatest decisions. We see Lou get to know Josie and strongly dislike her because she thinks Josie has designs on Danny Conner. YES. JEALOUSY REARS IT’S HEAD IN SIRENS and I LOVED every minute of it.
I loved Josie’s character arc. She’s very much a small town girl in the big city at first, but she stays sensible. Like she’s not the sort to let completely loose now that she’s away from home. One day she gets this mysterious delivery and it turns out to be Teddy’s journal and so she must unravel the clues and secrets he has left behind in order to save her family from Danny Conner coming down on them. On top of that, she sees that her cousin Melody is a total train wreck and does what she can to protect Melody and get her through her issues. Y’all, I love that. I love seeing characters who are down for their family members in times of trouble. I also love that Jo chafes against the gender roles society has set for her — mainly so that she can marry up and out of the trouble. Jo wants to get herself and her family out without depending on some dude and I LOVE THAT. Seriously, I cannot write the word love enough during this paragraph. I basically love love love love Jo’s character.
Yet, as much as I loved Jo, I think I loved Lou even more. Yo, this girl, this moll is tough as freakin’ nails and I am positive she can hang with me any day. For real. Like, she uses her charm and looks to get what she wants. Plus, she puts up with Danny Conner (yes, she definitely should leave him because he’s a total douche). I don’t think that one should have to sacrifice everything in order to save their family from the street, you see Lou’s parents died when she was young leaving her and her brother Charlie penniless. It seems like their should be more options, but sometimes life isn’t fair and in the 1920s it’s not like women were as free and mobile as today. So yeah, I just, I loved Lou in that absolutely nothing was handed to her on a silver platter and she does the best she can. She has her darker moments, but I think that adds a special sort of complexity to her.
The beginning of Sirens by Janet Fox was rather slow for me. I wasn’t whipping through it like I had hoped. However, the book hits it’s stride about 10% of the way in — when Josie gets to NY and gets the diary. That is when things truly take off and I could not set the book down. I thought Fox’s writing style was quite eloquent. She did a great job making use of the 1920s jargon, but it never felt overwhelming. Plus, I truly got a sense of the Irish mob and how dangerous they were during the 1920s. AND, this book really made me want to be a flapper. AND AND AND there are subtle bits in there that touch on gender politics and the female experience and lack of female agency and power and I loved it. I felt sort of like a genius for noticing those things!
Honestly, in the deafening roar of The Diviners, Sirens might seem to come on silent and be overshadowed — because they are both 1920s set books about smart young ladies who are sent to NYC but for different reasons. However, the two main characters could not be more different. Straight up, I loved both reads but for different reasons. Do you like studious girls? Who turn out to be hot when they take off their glasses and ponytail? Who retain their brains post makeover? Who have courage in the face of the mob? Who would do anything for their family? Yes? Then get your hands on Sirens by Janet Fox, an unsung read that’s totally the bees’ knees y’all.
Disclosure: Received for review via Netgalley
Other reviews of Sirens by Janet Fox:
Baseballvalbooks – “an electrifying coming of age tale”
In Bed With Books – “It’s one jazzy ride.”