I really want to like these books. I love jazz, I love the flapper era, and I like historical fiction–but Larkin drops the ball several times. With more research, editing, and commitment to the time period, this series could really be something special, but as it stands it’s a missed opportunity.
“Black” is not the term that is most historically accurate, yet it’s the one that Larkin uses exclusively. “Colored” or “Negro” or even “Nigger” would have been used more than “black”. If you’re going to write about a period in history, you’re going to have to use the vocabulary of the time. Using popular slang while avoiding the uncomfortable terms makes me feel like the author is lacking in bravery. Further, having all the white girls in this novel capable of commenting on the handsomeness of the black characters doesn’t ring true. Racism is an ugly facet of American history that I think you have to acknowledge when you’re writing historical fiction. I also think that the Mann Act would have come up somehow in regards to Gloria and Jerome, but it never did. The issue of race is talked about a lot, but we never really see it portrayed in an effective way.
In this installment, we meet Louis Armstrong, and are told he has the nickname Dippermouth because he chews tobacco. I’ve read a lot about Louis Armstrong, and everything I’ve seen indicates that Dippermouth is one of his nicknames because he loved the song “Dippermouth Blues”. His more common nickname was Satchelmouth, which came about because of his wide satchel like mouth (or because he hid money in his mouth as a child, reports vary), and it was often shorted to Satchmo. Louis Armstrong has a very unique voice and way of speaking, and with a little research this could come across even in a brief appearance–yet Larkin has Louis sounding just like the four teenage girls who are the focus of the novel.
People who aren’t as interested in jazz and this time period probably won’t have as many problems with this series as I do, even with the weak writing.