Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Bright Young Things

Author: Anna Godbersen

Published: October 12th, 2010

Number of Pages: 400

Rating: 4/5


It was past four o’clock on that sleepy Union, Ohio, Sunday, and the dappled afternoon sun played on her high, fine cheekbones and the strands of her loosely braided honey-and-bark-colored hair. The girl was just eighteen, and had graduated from Union’s one-room high school two weeks earlier. If that passerby had bothered to ponder her eyes – which were the sweet, translucent brown of Coco-Cola in a glass – he might have recognized in them a brewing agitation.


The year is 1929. New York is ruled by the Bright Young Things: flappers and socialites seeking thrills and chasing dreams in the anything-goes era of the Roaring Twenties.

Letty Larkspur and Cordelia Grey escaped their small Midwestern town for New York’s glittering metropolis. All Letty wants is to see her name in lights, but she quickly discovers Manhattan is filled with pretty girls who will do anything to be a star…

Cordelia is searching for the father she’s never known, a man as infamous for his wild parties as he is for his shadowy schemes. Overnight, she enters a world more thrilling and glamorous than she ever could have imagined—and more dangerous. It’s a life anyone would kill for . . . and someone will.

The only person Cordelia can trust is Astrid Donal, a flapper who seems to have it all: money, looks, and the love of Cordelia’s brother, Charlie. But Astrid’s perfect veneer hides a score of family secrets.

Across the vast lawns of Long Island, in the illicit speakeasies of Manhattan, and on the blindingly lit stages of Broadway, the three girls’ fortunes will rise and fall—together and apart. From the New York Times bestselling author of The Luxe comes an epic new series set in the dizzying last summer of the Jazz Age. [From Goodreads]


Whoo! What a fun atmosphere! Plunging into 1929 was a welcome experience! There is no doubt whatsoever that the aspect of the book that most wowed me was the setting. The moment the book ended and I was shoved back into the 21st century, I was bummed. If you’re a fan of a tangible historical atmosphere, you will love Bright Young Things by default.

This book needed to be told by three girls. It needed to tell three stories. It was the combination of the three – the binding of them – that made it feel whole. The way the girls’ lives intertwined, flowed apart, and wove together again was wonderful to see. While the book focuses a lot of attention on the period and the society, it wouldn’t be what it is without Cordelia Grey, Astrid Donal, and Letty Larkspur (beautiful names!).

It’s evident from the beginning that Cordelia Grey is not a girl to be messed with. She knows what she wants, and she won’t compromise her goals (well, if she compromises them, she does away with the consequences). The moment you “set eyes” on her, you get the feeling that she is meant for more. Something big is going to happen to her. She is something big.

I liked Cordelia, though I highly disapprove of some of her choices and the way she rationalizes particular actions. I admired her resilience and ambition. Her story, the story of finding her family, her home, her station in life… It’s intriguing and thrilling. I was jarred by the sudden shift in atmosphere and lifestyle just as Cordelia was.

Letty might be my least favorite of the trio, but she didn’t begin that way. Originally, I thought she was sweet and delicate – naïve, certainly, but sweet all the same. As she’s pulled into the world of nightclubs, cigarette girls, and girls who were “born to be stars,” she changes. The scrapes she gets into can often be attributed to either her naivety or her desperation to get to the top – to get on stage and wow people and see her name in lights. The infuriating thing, though, is that she was so incredibly obsessed with her goals that she stepped on people and sacrificed some of her values. She started to drown herself in her ambition. It was a sad decline to witness. However, there are sweet things – gentle things – to her character, and she learned from some of her consequences.

Astrid, now here’s a fancy gal! I love her. The sleek way she ended every sentence with “darling,” her preoccupation with “acting her part,” the way she was immediately drawn to Cordelia, and her mood swings all combine into a fascinating, unexpectedly lovable character. Her situation – the daughter of a woman who has the gift of marrying well… repeatedly – is tumultuous and out of the ordinary. Her relationship with Cordelia’s brother, Charlie, was nearly always on the rocks, but is clearly meaningful to her. I heartily enjoyed reading from Astrid’s point of view.

This book has much to do with character, but also tons to do with families. The Greys (Cordelia, Darius, and Charlie) have an extraordinary bond and value it over almost anything else. Darius, despite his illegal activities, surprised me. His fatherliness and soft-spots were adorable, and you grow fond of him in seconds (or pages). Charlie is the more interesting of the two, I must say, due to his wild mood swings. One moment, he’s bullying and brutal, and the next he’s crying/hugging/smiling. He’s the sort of person you have to learn to love, but he’s certainly an intriguing specimen.

Bright Young Things is chock full of the drama, atmosphere, contentions, characters, and love stories that will woo just about anyone. You have forbidden love, rival families, wounded and tightly-woven families, and characters that make so many mistakes you lose count but who bounce back and try to make the best of things. And, on top of all that, the characters’ choices lead them to an end that left me insanely excited for more. (And more is coming next year with the sequel, Beautiful Days!)

2 Commentsto “Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen; Review”

  1. Wow, this sounds SO good! I already wanted to read it since it's set in the '20s, but now I want to read it even more.

  2. I like your review of this book and even though I wanted to read it anyway, this soldified my, or your, choice! Keep on going!

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