You probably know the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Twelve sisters disappear at night and come back with worn out shoes — where have they gone? The father offers a reward for anyone who can solve the mystery.
The mystery of The Girls at the Kingfisher Club has already been solved. A father, determined for a male heir, perseveres until he has twelve daughters living on the top floor of his New York apartments. Twelve sisters, aching for freedom, slip out each night to whatever Manhattan speakeasies seem safest. The story mostly follows Jo, the General, but also manages to capture the disparate personalities and hopes of her eleven younger siblings.
While I loved the historical element of this book (1920s New York!), the characters really steal the show. One of my favourite moments was when the father, stern faced and suspicious, confronts all twelve daughters for the first time. Suddenly he’s vulnerable in the face of his own offspring, especially Jo, trained by necessity to guard and look over her sisters and constantly worrying: am I my father? She certainly shares his iron will, his strength and his stubbornness, but while her father uses his power to cage others, Jo uses hers to set her sisters free. The sisters aren’t perfect by any means; they squabble and hate and love each other equally, living together with an invisible line marking each sister’s territory. There’s loneliness on that crowded floor, but there’s also a connection between prisoners that never really fades.
She was still trying to discover how people related to each other, and how you met the world when you weren’t trying to hide something from someone. It was a lesson slow in coming.
If you’re thinking this doesn’t sound like a light read, you’re right, but it’s worth it for the elegance of Genevieve Valentine’s writing, and watching twelve princesses free themselves while carrying their shoes in their hands.
All copies unavailable? Try these similar titles which I also wept over:
- The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (kindness in the face of adversity)
- Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein (friendship in a World War II women’s concentration camp)
- The Diviners, Libba Bray (magic in 1920s New York)