"Saint Monkey" by Jacinda Townsend

Best friends Audrey and Caroline are fourteen-year-old girls growing up in a small town in Kentucky.  Audrey knows that she’ll never get out of the town, so she devotes herself to playing the piano at church. Caroline has dreams beyond the town, dreams of Hollywood stardom.  

But then a chance encounter gives Audrey a way out of town.  Before she knows it, she’s in New York City, a part of the increasingly popular jazz scene and playing on stage at the Apollo.  And now it’s Caroline who needs to accept that she is destined to stay in her backwards little town.

Though the two women grow apart, they forever remain linked through their childhood, their town, and their shared experiences.  And when Caroline finds her way out of the town, and Audrey finds her star fading fast, their paths will cross once again.

Saint Monkey, by Jacinda Townsend, is beautiful coming-of-age story, a first novel about growing up in the segregated South and chasing dreams in Jazz Era New York.  

This is an ambitious novel and one that is very, very moving.  It starts out with young Caroline and Audrey who early on in their lives experience loss and hardship and who both wish for something bigger than what their small town can offer them.  But only Audrey gets the chance to make her dreams come true.

In terms of historical beauty, this is a fantastic novel.  The segregated South and the freer North are played against each other, just as Caroline and Audrey are.  Townsend’s writing really drives home what life was like in the United States for Black men and women.  You can feel the emotion and the rawness through her writing and it was these moments that made the book worth reading for me. 

Unfortunately, I found the novel to be a little slow-going.  It took more time than I usually spend reading a novel because I found there wasn’t enough pushing the actual story forward for me.  There was a lot of “setting the scene” which for a historical novel is a good thing, but I just didn’t feel like it was balanced enough with the plotline.  

Told from the perspective of both girls, this is a story of two girls who are both friends and enemies at the same time, who are growing up in a changing world but for whom the world seems to stay the same. Lives marked by loss and heartbreak with dreams marked by music and stardom, Audrey and Caroline transport you to another place and time.

With a lot of potential that is not fully realized, Saint Monkey is a great read for its incredible and lyrical portrayal of the segregated South but prepare for a story that may move a bit slower than you are used to. 


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