In the high-society world of Manhattan in 1899, young women were readying themselves for the fall season of balls and teas and rides in the park. Among them is the beautiful, well-mannered, and obedient Elizabeth Holland. The debut ball is being held at the brand-new Fifth Avenue home of Liz's best friend, the vivacious Penelope Hayes.
Even though Elizabeth has only just returned from a year in Paris, her mother is already pressuring the eighteen-year-old to find a husband, preferably at the Hayes event that very night. The younger and rebellious Diana Holland has so far been able to avoid being in her mother's spotlight. Despite what the lower classes might think, marriages among the rich have little to do with love and much to do with merging fortunes and businesses. Elizabeth knows her duty, even if her heart protests.
Enter Henry Schoonmaker, the handsomest and richest of the eligible bachelors. Penelope wants him, Elizabeth hates him, and Diana loves him. Henry's father is well aware of his son's ability to charm the young ladies and his inability to assume responsibility. The elder Schoonmaker, more concerned with protecting his assets and running for political office than he is with Henry's happiness, has decided it's time for his son to marry.
All of New York is buzzing with the news of the upcoming wedding of the century. Everyone is happy except the couple in question. The only woman Henry doesn't want is exactly the one his father has picked out for him. Elizabeth, always under her mother's thumb, is the one young woman who thinks Henry is disgusting. Meanwhile, Penelope will stop at nothing to win Henry, and Diana is trying to hide her broken heart and do right by her sister.
The Luxe, the first in a series, is an terrific look into the high-class world of turn-of-the-century New York. Godbersen has gathered all the elements of a fun and gossipy tale: rakish bachelors, jealous maids, vengeful friends, handsome stable boys, secret lives, and sisterly bonds.
The book is set up as a bit of mystery because the opening scene is Elizabeth's funeral. The rest of book tells us how the characters end up where they are on that cold October morning. There are enough suspects and possible scenarios to keep the reader wanting to know more. Although I had figured out much of the plot before the end, it did not detract from my enjoyment.
This was an entertaining and quick read and a welcome addition to my YA shelves. This fast-paced, well-written historical novel is a refreshing break from fantasy and vampires. All women and girls who went to high school in the United States will have met some rendition of the various characters who inhabit Elizabeth Holland's world. I need to know more about these families, and I've already ordered the next two books in the series, Envy and Rumors.
Godbersen's portrayal of New York City at the turn of the century included details about the buildings, parks, and changing neighborhoods. I was impressed with the minutiae of daily life in an upper-class home. While listening, I noticed three possible anachronisms. However, when I looked them up, I was surprised to find that automobiles, mascara, and ragtime would all have been found in 1899 Manhattan.
I listened to this book via digital download from my library. It was nicely read by Nina Siemaszko, a new to me narrator. The Luxe is a super audiobook, and I found it difficult to turn off the player.
Print publisher: HarperCollins, 2007
Audio publisher: Harper Audio, 2007
Challenges: A-Z Author, New Author, Support Your Library, YA, 999, 100+