Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas

Summary: An enchanting and staggeringly original debut novel about one day in the lives of three unforgettable characters

Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken father, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat's Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.

As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud. -- Crown

2 A.M. AT THE CAT'S PAJAMAS by Marie-Helene Bertino is one of those books that I thought I might enjoy. I read a few reviews and it sounded "charming." Some also were calling it a coming-of-age story. It pretty much sounded like a book I would want to read. So I read it quickly over the course of a day, and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. I can't say that I loved it, but I didn't hate it either. It's is a very unique novel that had some things I appreciated and some that were kind of lost on me.

2 A.M. AT THE CAT'S PAJAMAS tells the story of three special individuals over the course of two days leading up to Christmas. First, there is Madeleine, a nine year old girl who is still reeling from the death of her mother. She's smart and sassy and aspires to be a jazz singer; however, she doesn't get much attention from her father -- he is caught up in himself trying to deal with his grief. Madeleine is determined to find the famous Philly nightclub The Cat's Pajamas and have the performance of her young life!

Then there's Madeleine's teach, Sarina who has recently returned to Philadelphia after a divorce. She is trying to start over and feels an affinity with Madeleine. She's also excited about a date with her old high school crush -- both hoping and worried that something might happen!

Finally, there's the owner of The Cat's Pajamas, Lorca who is being threatened by the police for code violations and might have to close down his nightclub. He needs to find $30,000 to save his legendary jazz club from ruin. The book follows all of these characters until their stories finally converge at "2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas."

All of me really wanted to like 2 A.M. AT THE CAT'S PAJAMAS, but only part of me did. I will try to explain, but I'm not entirely sure I can. The book itself was entertaining and I couldn't help but root for the three characters, and the writing was also pretty strong; however, the story was just a little "off" for me. The tone of the writing was pretty light and even humorous, but it was almost too quirky in some places. It definitely took me awhile to get used to prose.

Having said that, I did like the basic premise of the story, and I couldn't help but like the three characters. Each of them was a bit of a misfit (or at least was facing some difficult times), but I found myself wanting them to have some success... even if it was a small one. Madeleine was my absolute favorite character and she really was terrific. I loved her determination and spirit and I did appreciate seeing how much she grew by the end of the story.

Another special aspect of this story was the way Philadelphia was portrayed. Despite living two hours away from Philly, I don't really "know" the city; however, this novel definitely brought it to life in such a special way. I actually would go so far as to say that the city was its own character.

I also appreciated the author's unique way with words. I probably should have marked specific parts of her prose, but suffice it to say that her descriptions were really special. She used so many quirky ways to describe situations and individuals, and the pacing of the novel was definitely something that added to its charm.

And finally, I liked how this novel made me feel -- hopeful and happy! I'm sure the setting (around Christmas) didn't hurt, but the story focused on new starts, old reconciliations, and love. It was a very sweet book where you wanted every one's story to have a happy ending.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about 2 A.M. AT THE CAT'S PAJAMAS, but I'm sure many readers will "get it" more than I did.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I'm intrigued by this book but I have a feeling it's too smart for me.

OnDBookshelf said...

Thanks for your review. I'm interested in this one, but think I will wait until I read a few more reactions. It looks like it's not too long, so at least it won't be a huge time investment if I'm not that into it.

Beth F said...

I have this in audio and it might be a good companion for walking. I wonder if I too would have mixed reactions.