Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

When I tell people what I do for a living they immediately think I sit in an office all day and read books.  Uh, no.  What I do is read a mother-lode of book reviews.  Then once I do that, I go to places where your average non-librarian citizen hears about books.  Let's face it - they aren't pouring over Publisher's Weekly every week.  They just aren't.  They're watching the Today Show, reading People magazine, and trolling around on Entertainment Weekly's web site.  That's how they hear about books - and that's how I heard about The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt - by reading Oprah's (::shudder::) magazine.

Once I tweeted (yeah, I did) the publisher to confirm that Caroline Preston's scrapbook-style novel didn't have any dreaded pull out ephemera (no little letters tucked in envelopes for example), I happily forked over library funds to buy several copies.  Because, you know, our customers read Oprah.  It generated a modest waiting list, and when I noticed a copy sitting on the New Books shelves before I left work for the holiday weekend, I thought "What the heck?"  Ladies and gentleman, I present to you the book I zipped through in a couple of hours on Christmas Eve.

The best way I can describe this novel is that it's a picture book for grown-ups.  Or better yet, like going to a cocktail party and poking around in your host's medicine cabinet.  We meet Frances "Frankie" Pratt when she graduates high school in 1920.  She's a young lady with big dreams stuck in a tiny New England town.  Over the course of reading her scrapbook, we follow her from Connecticut, to Vassar, to New York City, to Paris, back to Connecticut.  It's a bit like uncovering an old photo album while playing in Grandma's attic and discovering the old lady had a really cool life before shackling herself to Grandpa.


It is a charming little book, with a wonderful "hook" and a nice attention to historical detail.  It also makes me weep bitter, copious tears that this era tends to be flat-out ignored in romance genre circles (yeah, yeah World War I and the Great Depression are major downers, but it's such an interesting time for women!).  That being said, readers shouldn't go into this book expecting serious amounts of depth.  It's a story told in scrapbook form, so we're not talking oodles of text here.  We also really only get Frankie's point of view, so if you're a reader not wild about first-person?  This one isn't likely to change your mind.

But it is an enjoyable little read that has a lot to recommend it to the right person.  I can totally see scrapbooking crafty-types going ga-ga over this.  Also, if you're a bit of a social history nut, like I am, this is a real treasure trove.  I suspect some romance readers will find Frankie's romantic entanglements less than fulfilling, but I found them remarkably refreshing in a "true to life" sort of way.  There are boys, then men, and all of this leads to Frankie being the woman she is by the final chapter.

Like I said, it's a bit like finding out that Grandma was pretty kick ass before she settled down, had babies, and baked cookies for the grandkids.  It is what it is - that is to say somewhat of a novelty.  But it's a charming, breathtaking novelty that I didn't want to put down.

Final Grade = B+

8 comments:

Kwana said...

Thanks for this review. what and interesting book.

LoriK said...

I'm totally with you on wishing that this era got more attention in romances. There are so many interesting stories to be told and IMO the times then weren't substantially more of a downer than other eras that people do write about.

I also think that an HEA when things kind of suck has an extra sweetness, but I know that not everyone feels the same about that.

Magdalen said...

I gave a copy to my aunt, who's in her 80s, so a bit younger than Frankie, but who lived in NYC in the 20s. I hope she liked it, but more importantly, I hope she's done with it by next Wednesday so I can finish reading it when I visit.

Marguerite Kaye said...

I'm also fascinated by this era and wish it got more attention. The impact of the war on women was phenomenal. I did write a short based in the 1920s with a shell-shocked hero, but it's basically gathered dust on the virtual shelves and I have been totally discouraged from writing anything else in that era. Though I read a LOT of its history.

Wendy said...

Kwana: It's a clever hook. My only concern from a public lending standpoint was that it might contain "pull-outs" - which blessedly, it did not. Score one for Ecco (part of Harpercollins) for answering my tweet :)

LoriK: Yeah the whole "I don't like reading about depressing time periods" doesn't hold a lot of water with me. Every era has tragedy. That said, WWI for Europeans was much more devastating than WWI for Americans - what with us showing up late for the "party."

Magdalen: If she's had time to look at it - I'm sure she's probably done now. I literally inhaled it in one sitting.

My grandmother has since passed (being born in 1909!) - but it made me wonder what I don't know about her. She was already an "old lady" by the time I came along. I wonder what she was like when she was a young adult?

Marguerite: I have that short story! Honestly, I do! I looked at my e-reader recently and was shocked to discover a back-log of Undones and Spice Briefs to the tune of.....14. 14 of them! Yikes!

Marguerite Kaye said...

I won't offer you my upcoming Undone then, since it would only add to the backlog!

Instead, even though this is not really the place, I'll recommend a totally other book that I read the other day and I thought you might like for your reading challenge. I picked up The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard in my local library, and it was just so different. A 17 year old girl goes to LA to discover her dead trashy mother through her letters and ex lovers. If you're looking for something totally different that still has a romance of a sort at its core then you could do a lot worsse. I loved it.

Oh and while I'm here, a happy new year from Scotland. Thank you for still being here, I hope that 2012 is a lot less tough for you.

Wendy said...

Marguerite: Uh, too late. I downloaded your new Undone yesterday :)

Ooooh, and I am totally going to look that book up! I need another thing to read like a hole in the head - but that sounds GOOD!

Marguerite Kaye said...

Fingers crossed you like both then Wendy! And toes.