Chocolates for Breakfast by Pamela Moore

Title: Chocolates for Breakfast
Author: Pamela Moore

Genre: Fiction (Coming of Age / 1950s / Hollywood / Boarding School / Love Affairs / Mothers and Daughters)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (6/25/2013)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did, very quickly.
One-sentence summary: The scandalous coming-of-age story of a 16-year old girl who has a crush on her female teacher, loses her virginity to a gay man

Do I like the cover?: I do, very much. Love the dated feel of the font and colors, the pretty figure, the retro coloring.

I'm reminded of...: Françoise Sagan, Sylvia Plath

First line: Spring at Scaisbrooke Hall was clearly the most beautiful time of year.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like retro/vintage fiction, coming of age stories, and seedy settings.

Why did I get this book?: I had a spell in which I was briefly enamored of Bonjour Tristesse, and the comparison of this book to it made me desperate to read this one.

Review: Written by an 18-year old girl who started at Barnard College at 16, Chocolates for Breakfast is a sad, frenetic, pensive, self-indulgent, and deliciously dramatic novel of the late 1950s, Hollywood, and that horrible transition from child to adult.

Set in 1956, the novel follows Courtney Farrell, who at 15 is pulled out of her posh Connecticut boarding school when the school notifies her parents of Courtney's depression. Courtney is nursing a sapphic crush on a school teacher (which may or may not be reciprocal) and struggles with bouts of mania and depression.

Her divorced parents are self-absorbed and unwilling to take her on (over the holiday, both parent thought the other parent had taken Courtney, which meant she had been abandoned at the school for a few days until things were worked out). Courtney is moved out the Hollywood, living with her fading actress mother Sondra, at the idyllic apartment complex where F. Scott Fitzgerald once lived. It's there, left to herself, that Courtney teaches herself to drink, smoke, and eventually, make love.

The narrative style is quick, despite the fact we're in the mind of a dreamy teenager girl. This does like a first novel, both ambitious and a bit rough, but there's lovely sentences and creative twists of language along with a scandalous story. It's worth picking up for more than just the teenaged escapades.

Although only 18 when Moore wrote this book, there is some real maturity in her reflections and meditations on growing up, responsibility, desire, the search for happiness.

As with The Bell Jar, it's hard for me to read this book without projecting what I know about the author into the story and onto the characters. Like Plath, Moore killed herself with an infant in the house and had a history with depression and suicidal behavior.

Moore was often compared to Salinger, and in some ways, I can see this being the 'female' answer to Catcher in the Rye. (Certainly, more resonated with me in this book than in Salinger's.) While 'shocking' in the day, I'm not sure this book is any more graphic or dramatic than today's YA or New Adult, although those who are uncomfortable with teenagers drinking, smoking, and 'seducing' might want to pass on this one.

While the novel was entertaining, I will say the extras captured my attention more. Novelist Emma Straub is the reason for this book's reissue: she was gifted a copy by her 7th grade French and Latin teacher, who happened to be the author's son. Straub gave her novel to her agent, which resulted it its reissue. There's also an essay by Moore's son, Kevin Kanarek, about his mother, her diaries, and her 'missing years' after the publication of this book; an article by Robert Nedelkoff on Moore and the path of this novel's publication; and a piece comparing this edition to the French edition as well as the original manuscript (which, to my delight, has more lesbian-ish-ness to it!).

For those who like vintage fiction from the '50s, get this one. Fans of Plath's The Bell Jar or other coming-of-age novels by girls worldly beyond their years will find another kindred soul here.  YA and New Adult addicts might consider picking this one up, as well: Moore is an unlikely great-aunt of the genre, I think!  This is debauched beachy fun with an undercurrent of melancholy -- so good for those moody, sunny weekends.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Chocolates for Breakfast to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 7/26.

Comments

  1. 1950's Hollywood? That fabulous retro cover? I am all over it! Off to fill out the form.

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    1. Ti, you'll love it -- the mood and ambiance are SO good -- seedy and over-saturated.

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  2. You had me at the title - Chocolates for Breakfast! And, I loved your review of this book - it sounds so good!! I love vintage fiction!! Thanks for the giveaway ;)

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    1. It's a smashing title, isn't it? It's soooo good -- hope you get to read it!

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  3. This book has been getting a lot of attention lately and it sounds like it's for good reasons. It sounds great to me!

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    1. Kathy, it's great -- very good for summer -- but not totally fluffy. Just enough shock and mood to keep one gripped.

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  4. A couple of characters in a book I read recently talked about Chocolates for Breakfast. The book is The House at the End of Hope Street. Thanks for telling us about CfB!

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    1. Apparently it rocked popular culture -- the Nedelkoff article suggests the popularity of Courtney as a girl's name is due to this book! I can see why -- much like Peyton Place, it has a big personality and dramatic plot that grabs!

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  5. I really liked this one, too, and also found the extras fascinating! They shed so much light on its context within popular culture at the time, as well as the path to reissue... fascinating. Courtney was a mess, but a loveable one.

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    1. Agreed -- she doesn't frustrate me the way some YA heroines do, and given Moore's age when writing this, I thought she had a rather clear sense of self -- it was very refreshing.

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  6. The story of how this reissue came about was so interesting! I think I'd heard of this book before, but didn't know what it was about. I entered my name into the drawing. Thanks for the giveaway!

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    1. It's even stranger -- the author wrote 'love letters' as a thank you to anyone who donated to her crowd-funded novel; her teacher donated, she admitted to him she'd found him dreamy, THEN he showed up at a reading of hers with his mother's novel! Very dramatic!

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    3. My high school English teachers were not dreamy at all! ;)

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  7. This book totally ticks off all the wishes on my checklist and I've been eyeballing it for a while now. I am head over heels with that cover to boot!

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    1. It's worth the eyeballs -- really lovely (and isn't that cover just amazing?!)!

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  8. I see what you mean about this being the female answer to Catcher in the Rye, but I have to say that I think I'd enjoy this book MUCH more than Catcher!

    Thanks for being on the tour Audra! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

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