In this “glorious dance through the traditional glamour and suffocating expectations of a bygone era” (Genevieve Graham, USA TODAY bestselling author), a group of young women are swept up in a life-changing journey as they become three of the last debutantes to be presented to Queen Elizabeth II.
When it’s announced that 1958 will be the last year debutantes are to be presented at court, thousands of eager mothers and hopeful daughters flood the palace with letters seeking the year’s most coveted invitation: a chance for their daughters to curtsy to the young Queen Elizabeth and officially come out into society.
In an effort to appease her traditional mother, aspiring university student Lily Nichols agrees to become a debutante and do the Season, a glittering and grueling string of countless balls and cocktail parties. In doing so, she befriends two very different women: the cool and aloof Leana Hartford whose apparent perfection hides a darker side and the ambitious Katherine Norman who dreams of a career once she helps her parents find their place among the elite. But the glorious effervescence of the Season evaporates once Lily learns a devastating secret that threatens to destroy her entire family.
“Woven with heartfelt emotion, this novel is a captivating, unforgettable story of one woman’s journey to find love, truth, and, most importantly, herself” (Kelly Bowen, author of The Paris Apartment) in midcentury Great Britain.
Kelly's captivating latest (after The Whispers of War) follows a young woman making her debut in 1958 London, the last year debutantes were presented before the monarch. Lily Nichols, 18, is a talented dressmaker who loves to read and longs for a future other than that of a housewife. Her cold mother, Josephine, who's harboring some family secrets, relies on Lily's wealthy, controlling grandmother for financial support. Both regard Lily's societal obligations, with all its rules and gossip, very seriously. Lily becomes fast friends with the well-connected Leana Hartford, which improves her social capital, though Leana's mean streak and bossy nature quickly exhausts Lily, who finds common ground with down-to-earth Katherine Norman, the daughter of a newspaper magnate who's maligned for coming from new money. Katherine encourages Lily to follow her dreams of going to university and pursuing poor-but-wonderful Ian Bingham. The engrossing narrative dishes out the right amount of tension while moving the plot forward at a satisfying pace. The final act concerns Josephine's unveiled secrets, which feel superfluous, but Kelly's descriptions of the emotionally exhausting business of doing and wearing the right thing elicit empathy for characters whose circumstances depend on finding a husband. Kelly succeeds at bringing a bygone world to life.