Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The Tumbling Turner Sisters

Author: Juliette Fay
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Paperback
Source: Simon and Schuster
Publisher: Gallery Books
First Published: June 14, 2016
First Line: "Nothing good comes from a knock in the middle of the night."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn 1919, the Turner sisters and their parents are barely scraping by. Their father is a low-paid boot-stitcher in Johnson City, New York, and the family is always one paycheck away from eviction. When their father’s hand is crushed and he can no longer work, their irrepressible mother decides that the vaudeville stage is their best—and only—chance for survival.

Traveling by train from town to town, teenagers Gert, Winnie, and Kit, and recent widow Nell soon find a new kind of freedom in the company of performers who are as diverse as their acts. There is a seamier side to the business, however, and the young women face dangers and turns of fate they never could have anticipated.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: In her latest book, Juliette Faye gives her readers a glimpse into the life of Vaudeville entertainers.  It is evident that she has done her research on the era as she describes what life was like for someone who earned their living on the Vaudeville stage. Life was hard and competition fierce but there was a definite camaraderie between the entertainers.  I enjoyed learning more about how certain acts were chosen, the order in which they'd perform and their very unique abilities.

Faye also adds in societal pressures (women's suffrage, racism, prohibition ...) and shows that life wasn't easy for these performers - especially for women.  These issues, while important to the story line and characters, were woven into the plot well and made their impact without taking over the story line of these five women who suddenly find themselves struggling to make ends meet in the very diverse and competitive world of entertainment.

The story is told via alternating points of view of sisters Winnie and Gert who, while they were quite different in temperament, were a little lackluster for narrators.  I loved learning more about this era but I found the growth of the characters and lack of tension in the plot were weak points.  For a book that deals with the exciting world of Vaudeville I was surprised to find that the book lags in a few parts with the focus being too much on the descriptions of day-to-day life on the road.  It was during these parts that my attention waned and I never felt like the plot picked up much steam.  

The characters, while quite diverse, never got deep enough to be riveting and immerse me in their lives.  The girls' mother was one-dimensional as a stage mother of the worst kind and I wished we could have seen another side to her. The plot generally focuses on the coming of age of the sisters as they weather broken hearts, learn to stand up to their domineering mother and make their way in a male dominated world.

One of the highlights of the book were the quotes from famous entertainers of the time that were added at the beginning of each chapter.  Many were quite humorous and greatly added to the Vaudeville feel of the time.  I think that readers who are looking for a glimpse into life on the Vaudeville stage and want a lighter historical fiction read that deals with many issues of the era will enjoy this book.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Gallery Books for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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