Family drama. 1960’s Chicago. Need I say more? Find out what I thought about Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert- a story about an only child of a single mother growing up in an adult world.
Last Night at the Blue Angel
Title: Last Night at the Blue Angel
Author: Rebecca Rotert
Publisher: William Morrow Publishing
Format: Paperback, 325 pages
Source: Received from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review
Set against the turbulence of 1960s Chicago—a city in transformation—and its legendary jazz scene, Last Night at the Blue Angel is a lush and immensely heartfelt mother-daughter tale about a talented but troubled singer’s relationship with her precocious ten-year-old daughter.
It is the early 1960s, and Chicago is teeming with the tensions of the day—segregation, sexual experimentation, the Cold War and Vietnam—but it is also home to some of the country’s most influential jazz. Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years. But when her big break, the cover of Look magazine, finally arrives, it carries with it an enormous personal cost. Sensual and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercely ambitious yet self-destructive woman whose charms tend to hurt those around her, and no one knows this better than her daughter, Sophia.
As the only child of a single mother growing up in an adult world, Sophia is wise beyond her years, a casualty of her mother’s desperate struggle for fame and adoration. Unsettled by her home life, she harbors a terrible fear that her world could disappear at any moment, and compulsively maintains a list of everyday objects she might need to reinvent should nuclear catastrophe strike. Her only constant is the colorful and unconventional family that surrounds her and her mother, particularly the photographer, Jim, who is Sophia’s best friend, surrogate father, and protector—but Jim is also deeply in love with Naomi.
Weaving between the perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, Last Night at the Blue Angel is a poignant and unforgettable story about what happens when our passion for the life we want is at sharp odds with the life we have. Part stylish period piece, part heartbreaking family drama, it’s a novel rife with revelations, a vivid and propulsive page-turner—and the major debut of an extraordinary new writer.
About the Author
Rebecca Rotert received an M.A. in literature from Hollins College, where she was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets prize. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times and other publications. She’s also an experienced singer and songwriter, who has performed with several bands, and a teacher with the Nebraska Writers Collective. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska. This is her first novel.
I have wavered back and forth about how to review this book and what to rate it. I think the concept was really great, but for some reason I had a hard time really getting into the book- I don’t know if it was the book itself, the timing of when I read the book, or what. I thought that the topic of this book was interesting, and I enjoyed the characters, but I found it tough slogging while reading.
I thought this book was well written and I really enjoyed reading about the family drama. The book is written in alternating perspectives and times- you get Sophia (Naomi’s daughter) describing the present day events and then you get Naomi describing events of the past. Naomi’s events of the past help you to understand why she is the way she is in the present, but for some reason I couldn’t warm up to her character (mind you, this was probably the goal of Rebecca since Naomi is a DIVA!) Right from the beginning of the novel, I immediately connected with Sophia and felt really bad for her. Sophia feel lonely, neglected and forgotten. She says several heart-wrenching things to/about her mother, such as:
“When she notices me, all the times she doesn’t notice me get erased. Like I imagined them” (page 38)
“I can tell that today Mother feels stuck with me, like I’m a chore she’s trying to get out of” (page 40)
Jim, Naomi’s friend, also makes several remarks throughout the book about how he feels neglected by Naomi, but he has a strong connection with Sophia, which is probably why he sticks around.
This book not only discussed family drama and dynamics, but also touches on the topic of race. Sophia gains a new classmate part way through the novel, a young coloured girl by the name of Elizabeth. Although the boys in the class make fun of Elizabeth, it doesn’t seem like they do this because of her colour but just because they can. Sophia immediately befriends Elizabeth and the two seem inseparable. I liked that race was touched upon, especially since this book takes place in the early 1960’s, and I think it sends a strong message that Sophia doesn’t give colour a second thought when she decides to become friends with Elizabeth. She shows her maturity by doing this. Two sentences really stood out for me:
“Humans do tend to love the same things, which suggests we are more alike than not” (page 134)
“I begin to realize that even though she and I live in the same state, the same town, go to the same school, and are, right now, standing in almost the exact same spot, we live in different worlds” (page 139).
I think this book really deserves a chance, it deals with interesting topics and has some interesting characters, I just think the pacing was a little slow. I will definitely try reading this book again in the future to see if my opinion of it changes, but for now, I think it was a good book.
Overall, I give this book:
3.5 out of 5 hippos
Thank you to
for allowing me to be part of the tour!