In Strings Attached, Judy Blundell yet again shows how much she likes the post-WWII era and gives this book a noir vibe not often observed in YA books. This might be slightly alienating for most contemporary teens, but the murder-mystery plot will probably draw in a bigger readership… that combined with the fact What I Saw and How I Lied won the 2008 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, which will probably boost the sales of this exploit too. However, the book suffers from a disease often seen in the arts: mediocrity…
Kathleen ‘Kit’ Corrigan is 17 when she moves to New York City, to become the Broadway star she’s always hoped to become. Instead, she gets a job as a chorus girl in the Lido, a dubiously famous nightclub, in which the dancers are affectionately known as Lido Dolls. When she runs into Nate Benedict, the father of her (previous) boyfriend, who also happens to be a lawyer with some questionable mob associations, he offers to pay for an apartment. She soon learns that there are always ‘strings attached’ to everything as she has to keep him informed about what’s going on with his son in case he shows up in New York and occasionally has to pass on some information about some of the nightclub’s regulars. The story alternates Kit’s present in New York with her past in Providence, weaving an intricate maze of family secrets and mysterious connections.
The problem with Strings Attached is that there is very little originality going on in terms of story, despite this mysterious set-up, or that there’s very little likeability or depth in most of the characters, including Kit. Strings Attached is the type of book where you go ‘yeah, it was an OK book’ after you’re done reading it, but a week afterwards you forget you ever read it. For house-moving reasons the cat had to wait about 10 days to review this one, and she’d already forgotten what the name of the main character was… A pity, because browsing through some of the pages to bring it all back made her realize that Blundell does have a knack for the time period, both in terms of sketching the general atmosphere and the setting. Moreover, the language she uses to do it, sounds fairly authentic too.
If there’s anything that Blundell is successful at, though, it’s showing how much of Kit’s life and her career prospects are dependent on the men in her life (either her (ex-)boyfriend Billy or his father Nate Benedict), a hot topic when you’re discussing the 1950s, but a plot thread that will undoubtedly make many women who read this book today want to scream at Blundell for choosing the anti-feminist road.
Just like in What I Saw and How I Lied the cat feels that Blundell wants to prove a little too much that she can be a serious writer too. The unfortunate drawback is that she didn’t succeed in her high ambitions and that we’re left with a book that’s just mediocre… And though mediocre is good enough for some, and to be honest, a lot of books suffer from this disease, the cat just doesn’t want to settle.