Sunday, April 10, 2011

Always Strings Attached

Strings Attached
Historical fiction is a funny subgenre. It all gets lumped under one heading, but it could be anything from incredibly distant history to a mere couple decades ago. Strings Attached by Judy Blundell is a story set in New York City during the late 1940's and early 1950's. This is a time when my mother and her family lived in NYC, and I was anxious to read about the time period.

Kit Corrigan was a the last triplet born, and she was the triplet who killed their mother in childbirth. Her father found a way to make ends meet: he made the triplets into the Corrigan Three, a mildly talented trio who travel to state fairs, do endorsements, and bring in enough money to get the family through tough times. Now that Kit is all grown up, she wants to pursue her dream and move to NYC to be famous, even if that means leaving her boyfriend, Billy, behind.

At first she can't get much work and finds herself in a doomed performance. When that show goes under, Nate Benedict finds her. Nate is Billy's father, and Nate is known in Providence for being a lawyer with mob ties, no matter how much he denies it. Nate convinces Kit to stay in an empty apartment he owns and even sets her up with an audition at the Lido, a nightclub famous for its "Lido Girls". At first Kit is uncomfortable with everything Nate does for her (including buying her an all-new wardrobe, complete with intimates), but he insists he is doing it all for her and Billy. With Billy recently enlisted, Nate hopes the dream of coming home to Kit will keep him safe in Korea.

It all seems fine until Nate starts asking Kit for small favors, like delivering a package or keeping him informed on the guests at the Lido at night. When one of Kit's "favors" for Nate leads to the man being the target of a hit right in the Lido, Kit knows her information was what got the man killed. She knows Nate is a dangerous man, and when the story breaks about the mob hit, nothing can stop him. Then the papers start speculating that Nate and Kit are having an affair. She tries to explain to Billy that it isn't true, but with the apartment and the fancy clothes, it is hard to convince him she hasn't been Nate's mistress. Quickly, everything falls apart for Kit and it starts to put her family in danger. She must find a way to protect her family and get the truth out, even if it means risking her own life.

This was a very difficult story to get through. I actually had to put it down halfway through, read another book, and pick it back up again. I wasn't sure if it was the time period at first, but then I realized it was the lack of dynamic characters that really made it a difficult book for me. Kit is not a very likable lead, which would be fine if you could invest in any of the other characters. Nate is supposed to be creepy and controlling, but her interactions with him are so limited you can't even get yourself to dislike him (even though you know you should). Billy was the one who really drove me nuts, though. Were we supposed to want her to get together with Billy? Hate him? I couldn't bring myself to feel much about him, except his striking resemblance to an early Michael Corleone before he was dragged back to the family business.

That was the other difficulty with this book. It was supposed to be a young adult novel and yet I can't imagine a young adult getting through this story. It isn't just that they won't be able to relate to the time period (which they won't through this particular narrative), but also that there is nothing at all they can relate to. If the characters were at least a little interesting or familiar, some kids might stick with this story, but that isn't really the case. If I even mentioned the Corleone connection I noticed, most of my kids wouldn't even understand the reference! In fact, I wouldn't even recommend this book to an adult (although it seems to be written more for adults than young adults).

If you are going to pass this on, the best bet would be that student who is really into historical fiction. Unfortunately, the interesting parts of the story, like the war and the mob, are so drowned by Kit's annoying musings, it makes it hard to pinpoint the type of student this book would be best for. The vocabulary is modest and there isn't anything graphic or inappropriate in the story. For sheer dryness, I would suggest this story for strong readers only, especially those who are good at wading through some dry parts to get to the meat of the story. I was sadly disappointed with this story, but maybe Blundell's next one will be more of a hit... I know it would be great to have exciting historical fiction to get our students and children to read!

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