Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen
Beautiful Days is the second in the Bright Young Things series. Set in 1929 New York, the novel follows three girls, Cordelia, Letty, and Astrid. Cordelia is the long-lost daughter of a famous bootlegger who died at the end of the first book, passing his business (and all its danger and drama) on to her and her brother Charlie. Astrid, a selfish but charming born-and-bred socialite, is engaged to Charlie. Letty, Cordelia’s childhood friend, wants to be a star on Broadway.
I wouldn’t call this series high literature, but it’s good fun and better than a lot of series YA. The sentences are solid and interesting. It’s a page-turner, flipping back and forth between the three leads, and keeping the action level high. Sometimes the characters are capricious and change their minds and do silly things seemingly purely for the sake of the plot or to create drama, but usually that fits their character type anyway.
I also read and enjoyed Godbersen’s The Luxe series, which has been described as Gossip Girl meets Edith Wharton. I remember being particularly impressed that the series did not have happy endings for everyone. The Bright Young Things series has all of the things that made The Luxe so fun: great settings and descriptions, strong and determined central female characters, twisty-turny plot, scenes that alternate steamy with flirty. Instead of Wharton, the inspiration is Fitzgerald. I also think about the musical Chicago when imagining the settings and outfits.
This book definitely felt like the middle of a series. There was a feeling if indeterminacy at the ending; I still feel like anything could happen. So often, you know from the beginning who will end up together, and that makes it very predictable. In The Luxe, I was able to predict the fate of one main character, but the other two I guessed wrong about because Godbersen wisely chose a poignant, Whartonian conclusion instead of a Disneyfied happy ending. This series seems even more up in the air. I can imagine at least four possible endings for Cordelia at this point, and at least two for Astrid (Letty is most predictable of the trio: when a character’s ambition is to become a star in this kind of book, you know she’ll succeed, the only question is how). I really admire how Godbersen is able to surprise you and keep you guessing. However, there is one certainty. The action ended in August 1929, so you know what’s coming: Black Tuesday. The next book, The Lucky Ones, comes out on September 18!