Review: The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway

artistAn enthralling Edith Wharton-meets-Little Women debut about a family of four artistic sisters on the outskirts of Gilded Age New York high society that centers on the boldest—an aspiring writer caught between the boy next door and a mysterious novelist who inducts her into Manhattan’s most elite artistic salon.

The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, her best friend, neighbor and first love. Yet when Charlie proposes to another woman, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up and obsessively rewrites how their story should have gone.

Though Ginny works with newfound intensity, success eludes her—until she attends a salon hosted in her brother’s handsome author friend John’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Amongst painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under John’s increasingly romantic attentions. Just as she has begun to forget Charlie, however, he throws himself back into her path, and Ginny finds herself torn between a lifetime’s worth of complicated feelings and a budding relationship with a man who seems almost too good to be true.

The brightest lights cast the darkest shadows, and as Ginny tentatively navigates the Society’s world, she begins to suspect all is not as it seems in New York’s dazzling “Gay Nineties” scene. When a close friend is found dead in John’s mansion, Ginny must delve into her beloved salon’s secrets to discover her true feelings about art, family, and love.

I was entering this book into the catalogue during my shift at the library and something about it hooked me. I guess it was a bit of a combination of the lovely cover, the time period and the mention of arts in the blurb. I was put off by the fact that it sounded mainly like a romance, but I’m so glad I chose to read it.

But it is not entirely romance as the blurb suggests and what romance there is, is highly realistic, not the eye roll worthy kind found in romance novels.  Really, The Fifth Avenue Artists Society is a story about a girl’s life, her struggles to be published, her relationship to her family, her friendships and loves.

The fact that Callaway’s story is based on a real family makes it all the more interesting. I really appreciate historical fiction that is based more in reality than fantasy. The plot is filled with drama, but it’s all very realistic, especially the family dynamics. The story is infused with excellent atmosphere, and you really feel as if you are in 1890s New York while reading.

A lot of heavy subject matter is covered as well. A good portion of the novel deals with loss and grief. Life and love are portrayed as uncertain and confusing, gifts to be made the most of because you never know when they will be taken away. Money is constantly discussed and worried over, as well as status.

It was so great to find a protagonist who is close to my age. It’s a rarity to find university aged protagonist in books that aren’t ‘new adult’ romances. Ginny is 22, and I was able to really connect with her and relate to parts of her life. She is a very strong character, and I found her story fascinating. I respected the choices she makes throughout the novel and was continually curious to see what she’d do next.

I also enjoyed reading a story from the perspective of an artist. The novel follows Ginny, who, along with her other artistic friends, search for inspiration, deal with the trials of becoming published or sold and the disappointment of being turned down.  It was also super fun to have famous writers pop up in the novel.

Recommended to writers and artists, and historical fiction lovers. This one, though adult, also has excellent YA crossover appeal.


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