“Her name is Melanie. It means ‘the black girl’, from an ancient Greek word, but her skin is actually very fair, so she thinks maybe it’s not such a good name for her. She likes the name Pandora a whole lot, but you don’t get to choose. Miss Justineau assigns names from a big list; new children get the top name on the boys’ list or the top name on the girls’ list, and that, Miss Justineau says, is that.
There haven’t been any new children for a long time now. Melanie doesn’t know why that it. There used to be lots; every week, or every couple of weeks, voices in the night. Muttered orders, complaints, the occasional curse. A cell door slamming. Then, after a while, usually a month or two, a new face in the classroom – a new boy or girl who hadn’t even learned to talk yet. But they got it fast.
Melanie was new herself, once, but that’s hard to remember because it was a long time ago. It was before there were any words; there were just things without names, and things without names don’t stay in your mind. They fall out, and then they’re gone.”
I read Mindy Kaling’s first memoir/essay collection Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns) about four years ago, but I just realized that I never actually wrote a review for it – I also just realized that I never made a “memoir” shelf, so that’s been corrected. I’ll go back and write a review of Kaling’s first book at some point, I promise.
It’s the summer of 1922 in Wichita, Kansas, and thirty-six year old Cora Carlisle is bored. Her twin sons are preparing to leave for college, and she doesn’t have anything to do with her time except various charity functions. Then she learns that her neighbor’s fifteen year old daughter has been accepted to a summer dance program in New York, and needs someone to accompany the girl as a chaperone. Cora volunteers for the job, but has motives other than just an excuse to get out of Kansas for the summer: Cora’s own history began in New York, and she goes there hoping to answer some questions about her past. In the meantime, though, she will stay busy keeping an eye on her charge: headstrong, independent, fifteen year old Louise Brooks, who is only a few years away from becoming a Hollywood superstar.