Published by Blink on February 7, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Historical
Source: YA Books Central
Lydia has vanished.
Lydia, who’s never broken any rules, except falling in love with the wrong boy. Lydia, who’s been Piper’s best friend since they were children. Lydia, who never even said good-bye.
Convinced the police are looking in all the wrong places, eighteen-year-old Piper Sail begins her own investigation in an attempt to solve the mystery of Lydia’s disappearance. With the reluctant help of a handsome young detective, Piper goes searching for answers in the dark underbelly of 1924 Chicago, determined to find Lydia at any cost.
When Piper discovers those answers might stem from the corruption strangling the city—and quite possibly lead back to the doors of her affluent neighborhood—she must decide how deep she’s willing to dig, how much she should reveal, and if she’s willing to risk her life of privilege for the sake of the truth.
Diversity: 0 – What Diversity?
Racial-Ethnic: 0 (the only POC is a black woman employed by Lydia’s family as a servant and her 1-2 lines of dialogue have a rather stereotypical phonetic accent)
Disability: 0 (Lydia has seizures due to an unidentified disease or disorder)
The 1920s was a big, extravagant mess of a time in American history. We had the Harlem Renaissance going on and we tend to associate the decade with glamour, but we also had Prohibition and organized crime basically owned the city of Chicago. That’s the setting of The Lost Girl of Astor Street and the background for one girl’s search for her best friend. It was an alright novel, I guess. I have a few bones to pick, though.
Piper is a rich girl far removed from the worst of 1920s Chicago, but she’s not exactly a prim and proper lady; she’s constantly in trouble at school and practically has her teacher’s ruler permanently branded into the skin of her knuckles from so many punishments. She’s clearly chafing from the era’s sexism and high expectations for her. I would be too! Her slow romance with Detective Mariano Cassano, the cop investigating Lydia’s disappearance is pretty sweet.
Piper is not a girl who thinks things through–and that’s meant in the most endearing way possible. She trusts her instincts and is pretty good at improvising when, say, her new friend Emma asks Piper to help her find out what her beau Robbie is hiding. She knows her father is willing to represent mafia figures in court, but she doesn’t think much of the fact. It’s simply part of her life until things get a little more complex and causes a fight with Mariano.
For roughly the first half of the novel, Piper’s determination and her forays into some of the darker places of Chicago are engaging and good enough to keep readers in their seats. Then Lydia’s fate is revealed and the novel’s pacing is bogged down by events in Piper’s life, like her father’s upcoming nuptials to a new woman and her own developing romance. Piper’s life simply isn’t that interesting in comparison to the mystery of Lydia’s disappearance, which falls by the wayside for a while.
Even when she is investigating, it feels like all that work meant nothing once you reach the climactic scenes of the book and see that Piper’s investigation contributed absolutely nothing to finding Lydia’s abductor. She does find the person, but it’s more because of a coincidence than Piper’s own hard work: she was only on the culprit’s radar at all because of the same right-time-and-place coincidence that saves her life. The events that follow are moreso results of where she was more than what she did.
Though The Lost Girl of Astor Street is subtly critical of the era’s sexim, it engages in sexism itself through Piper’s own words. At one point, Piper says that she knows losing sleep over Lydia’s disappearance is pointless, but “[she’s] a girl.” Implying that she does pointless things like being emotional because she’s a girl? Ew. It’s also odd that non-Piper female characters have a lot of their character centered around a man. Lydia’s defining trait is her love for her family chauffeur Matthew; Piper’s future stepmother Jane Miller has no traits at all outside of being Piper’s father’s fiancee.
But you know what? A little thing that made me happy was seeing abortion mentioned in the book (the Sail family housekeeper Joyce was sent away to get an abortion as a young woman but kept the baby and made her own way in life). Abortion has always been around, people. We gotta keep it safe and legal. ANYWAY, THAT’S JUST MY HAPPY ASIDE.
The well-drawn setting and instinct-driven heroine will make is an easy sell for teens who live by the phrase “well-behaved women seldom make history.” Piper is no well-behaved woman and the open ending leaves open the possibility of sequels. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Piper continue to terrorize the Chicago underworld with her tenacity! Its pacing is uneven toward the second half and Piper’s hardwork doesn’t achieve a satisfying payoff, but it remains a fun romp through 1924 Chicago’s gangster-ridden streets.