Debutantes is a sweet historical novel set in the 1920s Kent countryside. When I was reading it, I kept thinking this is Pride and Prejudice meets Dawson’s Creek. It is a romance but it’s also a novel of friendship and making your own way in the world.
It’s the story of four sisters who are the daughters of an Earl. Sadly, the Derrington’s fortune was lost on a mining business venture and so the family estate is in a state of disrepair. There is no male heir and so the estate will pass to a cousin on the death of Michael Derrington. The family’s hopes lay with the eldest daughter Violet. If she can have a season and marry a rich aristocrat, then all will be well. But there is no money for a debutant season for Violet. Yet the main character of the story is Daisy. She wants to be a film director and has a plan to make Violet famous in one of her movies.
The great thing about this book is Daisy and Poppy (her twin sister). They both have separate interests – directing films and jazz music – which evoke the dazzling 1920s era. It was great to see young women empowering themselves and following their dreams. I love that message. All the references to film-making were fascinating to me and captured my imagination. I loved visiting Sir Guy’s film studios and seeing behind the scenes. This is where the book excelled and brought the era to life.
However, I did have difficulty visualising the characters’ outfits. One of the things I thought worked really well in I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend was the illustrations. They complimented the story so well and brought it to life. I really wish that this book had contained black and white photos or film stills taken by Daisy. It would have given the book a wow factor and helped me to picture the girls’ attire and hair dos. There is such an emphasis on fashion of the period in Debutantes so I would have loved to have seen it.
There were also some errors in the proof copy. I think the author had changed Justin’s name from an earlier draft and so I was confused when a Julian randomly appeared. I’m sure this will have been rectified when the manuscript went to print though.
I wish I could have turned off my critical faculties and just enjoyed this story. But I kept wondering why Rose was there. (She is the youngest sister at twelve years old). What was her plot purpose? She wanted to be a novelist (and here I can see the link to Harrison’s previous novels) but did she really need to be there? At times it was hard to keep track of so many characters and I think the novel may have benefited from one less sister. It couldn’t be the eldest sister Violet because she is the “damsel in distress” and very much in need of a husband with a fortune.
Despite my criticisms, I did find Debutantes to be a sweet and engaging read. It’s historical fiction and yet it is very accessible and has a “contemporary” feel to the language. Girls will love the fashion theme, the go-getting Daisy and jazzy parties. A great first novel for preteens who want to try the historical genre.