Atmosphere -- as a character in one of her books might say, Judy Blundell's got it in spades. Her books are like a step back in time, literally. You are so transported to the place and time she's writing about that it will likely be a shock for you to look up from the book and realize you're not in a smoky 1940's nightclub. If you want to be totally swept away from your life for a bit, Judy Blundell can do that for you.
I've listened to both of Blundell's books on CD now, and both are simply amazing. What I Saw and How I Lied won the National Book Award, and it's easy to see why -- though I didn't review that one because honestly? I wasn't sure I could say much other than "read it, read it, read it now". It's that good.
And Strings Attached is a very, very close second. It's 1950, the war years are over, and Kit Corrigan has left her hometown of Providence, Rhode Island with no looking back. Kit's going to make it on Broadway, though when we meet her, she's dancing in the chorus of "That Girl from Scranton" and not making much of anything doing it. But then she runs into her ex-boyfriend Billy's father, who makes her an extraordinary offer. Nate Benedict is connected, and he's willing to use those connections to help Kit open some doors. Almost before she knows it, Kit's installed in a swank new apartment and working as one of the "Lido Dolls" at the most famous nightclub in New York. But the glamorous life comes at a price, as Kit quickly discovers -- and suddenly Kit's realizing that behind the velvet curtains is a world she's not sure she's ready for.
Oh, but this is good, historical fiction at its very best. In fact, I'm hesitant to even use the term "historical" because it might scare some readers away. And even though Kit's life and her struggles are very much couched in the issues and mores of the day, these are familiar themes even today. Kit's the kind of person who jumps in first and thinks it out later, and as a result she soon finds herself down a road she never intended to follow. Blundell is unsparing in her depiction of Kit, and of the other characters -- though you may at times want to scream at them, they are always true to their own motives and their own perceptions of the world as they know it. This is what makes for great fiction, and for the kind of story that lingers in readers' minds well after the story's end.
Blundell's definitely not for the younger set (though not graphic, these are novels with teens in adult situations) but she's got a whip-crack sense of timing and the environment couldn't be richer. Be forewarned though -- once you crack the spine, you're not likely to put it down until you turn the last page.
Strings Attached by Judy Blundell (audio narrated by Emma Galvin), published by Scholastic
Ages 12 and up
Sample quote: "Nate hung up with a soft click. No chance for me to say no. It was like he knew whatever I'd say would be a waste of his time. He knew I wouldn't turn this down. He knew I'd be crazy to say no. I didn't like him knowing all that. I didn't like how staying here suddenly made me available to him whenever he felt like calling. I hadn't counted on that."