REVIEW: Empire Girls by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan
Ivy and Rose Adams may be sisters, but they’re nothing alike. Rose, the eldest, is the responsible one, while Ivy is spirited and brazen. After the unexpected death of their father, the women are left to reconcile the estate, when they make a shocking discovery: not only has their father left them in financial ruin, but he has also bequeathed their beloved family house to a brother they never knew existed. With only a photograph to guide the way, Ivy and Rose embark to New York City, determined to find this mysterious man and reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
Once in New York, temptations abound at every turn, and soon the sisters are drawn into the glitzy underbelly of Manhattan, where they must overcome their differences and learn to trust each other if they’re going to survive in the big city and find their brother. Filled with unforgettable characters and charm, Empire Girls is a love letter to 1920s New York, and a captivating story of the unspoken bond between sisters.
Last year I enjoyed your WWII epistolary novel so much that when I saw this offered for review I immediately requested it. I wasn’t sure but it didn’t seem as if it would be letters again – and it’s not. Instead the story unfolds as alternate POV chapters with both sisters telling their side of things.
It’s immediately obvious that these two sisters are – or think they are – worlds apart in temperament and life goals. Rose is content to stay in their small town and sees herself taking care of their aging father while Ivy is wild to break out and Be Someone. Their plans get altered and their lives changed overnight when their father dies and they discover the truth. Only a trip to NYC might fix things but the sisters view their enforced journey with 180 degree differences. Rose wants only to discover their brother, get the estate settled and head home while Ivy wants to discover everything, try it all and never look back.
It should be obvious that the city will treat the sisters differently and that living there, in Greenwich Village, will change them in dramatically varying ways. Rose is horrified with the noise, the pushing people, the dirt and watching her sister become a “fast woman” from drinking illegal hootch and starting to smoke. Meanwhile Ivy is bursting to see and do everything. She has a list of ways to kick up her heels and won’t be satisfied until she’s checked off every one of the things on it.
With little to go on, the sisters start to search for their brother but honestly the effort they put into it seems, for weeks, haphazard at best. It was quickly clear to me that the search and its outcome were merely a catalyst for the changes Ivy and Rose would experience. Slowly, timid Rose and exuberant Ivy start to realize how much they’re evolving and their time in NYC is altering them. Rose begins to relax and slips so easily into a life that Ivy just knew was for her. Meanwhile the goals Ivy has prove elusive as she starts to wonder if she really fits what she dreamt of.
Rose and Ivy have always felt they know each other. Sometimes they haven’t liked each other much and have made cutting remarks designed to hurt. As the weeks go by, their opinions and long held views begin to also change. More secrets from their father’s past emerge and a stormy argument threatens to destroy the already fragile bond between the women. I did enjoy watching Rose and Ivy transform and learn as much about themselves as they finally learn about each other. One character calls it correctly in saying that for the first time, these two actually feel and act as if they’re sisters who care about each other.
Each sister gets a romance. Rose hadn’t thought she’d ever marry but soon she finds in a handsome Italian-American poet/chef the perfect person who sees her as she is and desires her just as she is. Ivy’s romance is actually the one which ended up making me smile as she exchanges letters and confidences with a man she never noticed before. I had my fingers crossed about them and my hopes were fulfilled – though I’d loved to have seen their fancy dinner in the swanky restaurant.
As the truth behind the secrets is finally uncovered, there are a lot of plot threads to be tied up. Everything fits together but I felt things got finished off almost too neatly. Rose and Ivy mention that they discover just what they need to know just when they need to know it but after one too many of these reveals, I couldn’t help but feel slightly manipulated. Also, Rose’s beau and a friend of their brother mentions how awful the conditions were that the men endured in the trenches in France but we’re barely shown any of this and are left with the hope that they will help each other through their nightmares.
I’m currently enamored with the 1920s and am delighted to have discovered another book set then. The feeling of the period is well evoked with dropped waist dresses, stocking seam checks, using fans blowing over ice for the heat, bathtub gin and speakeasies. The wrap up of the story felt a little too neat but I enjoyed watching Ivy and Rose take on NYC and come out on top. B-