Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: August 7th, 2018
Length: 368 pages
Description from Goodreads:
In her latest captivating novel, nationally bestselling author Fiona Davis takes readers into the glamorous lost art school within Grand Central Terminal, where two very different women, fifty years apart, strive to make their mark on a world set against them.
For the nearly nine million people who live in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.
For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future, which she is certain will shine as the brightly as the constellations on the main concourse ceiling. It is 1928, and twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public’s disdain for a “woman artist.” Brash, fiery, confident, and single-minded–even while juggling the affections of two men, a wealthy would-be poet and a brilliant experimental painter–Clara is determined to achieve every creative success. But she and her bohemian friends have no idea that they’ll soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression, an insatiable monster with the power to destroy the entire art scene. And even poverty and hunger will do little to prepare Clara for the greater tragedy yet to come.
Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay’s life. Full of grime and danger, from the smoke-blackened ceiling to the pickpockets and drug dealers who roam the floor, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Is the once-grand building a landmark to be preserved, or a cancer to be demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay. She embarks on a quest to find the artist of the unsigned masterpiece–an impassioned chase that draws Virginia not only into the battle to save Grand Central but deep into the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931.
The book switches back and forth between two different timelines and two different female viewpoint characters, Clara and Virginia. Clara is a painter in the 1930s, while Virginia is living in NYC in the 1970s, fresh off of a divorce.
I thought both characters were well-written. They both had their own unique flaws and struggles, whether those were internal struggles or issues placed on them by society. I loved watching both women stand up for themselves and grow throughout the story.
I also loved that all of the male romantic interests are portrayed negatively, rather than as knights in shining armors. Every male that is romantically involved with either Clara or Virginia is portrayed as being weak and needing to have their ego stroked constantly to be happy. I loved that she made the women the strong ones, and the men the overly emotional ones.
I also really loved the mother-daughter relationship between Virginia and Ruby. It felt very realistic, while also reminding me of Gilmore Girls.
I loved how both timelines were set around Grand Central Terminal. I also loved how the author included lots of references to the station, such as the Whispering Wall.
I think the author did a really great job of writing the story in a way that you could really feel like you were there. I felt a bit more in tune with the setting of the later timeline, but I think maybe that’s because the people Virginia worked with really made the place come to life. I’m not sure if this also has more to do with the fact that I’m more familiar with Grand Central today than what it was in the 30s.
I really loved the story that Fiona managed to create here.
I loved the way that the timelines referenced each other. In the 1970s timeline, we learn things about the fates of characters from the 1930s timeline, which made the story more powerful as I was reading.
My one negative of this book is that I did not like the ending. Without going into too much detail because I don’t want to ruin anything, I found the ending deeply unsatisfying and for a while, it tainted my view of the rest of the book. However, I did feel like the very, very end (the last 20 pages or so) made up for it and left me enjoying the book again.
A problem a lot of dual storyline books face is that one timeline is more interesting than the other. I did not really feel that way too often here, but I did feel like it dragged on at times. I loved both timelines, but I was slightly more interested in the later timeline, and there were a few 1930s scenes that seemed to drag on and kept me from learning more about what was happening with the characters in the 1970s.
Despite not being overly thrilled with the ending, I mostly enjoyed this book. If you’re looking for a light historical fiction with strong female characters, check it out.