Piper is a rich girl far removed from the worst of 1920s Chicago, but she’s not exactly a prim and proper lady; she’s constantly in trouble at school and practically has her teacher’s ruler permanently branded into the skin of her knuckles from so many punishments. She’s clearly chafing from the era’s sexism and high expectations for her. I would be too! Her slow romance with Detective Mariano Cassano, the cop investigating Lydia’s disappearance is pretty sweet.
Piper is not a girl who thinks things through–and that’s meant in the most endearing way possible. She trusts her instincts and is pretty good at improvising when, say, her new friend Emma asks Piper to help her find out what her beau Robbie is hiding. She knows her father is willing to represent mafia figures in court, but she doesn’t think much of the fact. It’s simply part of her life until things get a little more complex and causes a fight with Mariano.
What Left Me Wanting:
For roughly the first half of the novel, Piper’s determination and her forays into some of the darker places of Chicago are engaging and good enough to keep readers in their seats. Then Lydia’s fate is revealed and the novel’s pacing is bogged down by events in Piper’s life, like her father’s upcoming nuptials to a new woman and her own developing romance. Piper’s life simply isn’t that interesting in comparison to the mystery of Lydia’s disappearance, which falls by the wayside for a while.
Even when she is investigating, it feels like all that work meant nothing once you reach the climactic scenes of the book and see that Piper’s investigation contributed absolutely nothing to finding Lydia’s abductor. She does find the person, but it’s more because of a coincidence than Piper’s own hard work: she was only on the culprit’s radar at all because of the same right-time-and-place coincidence that saves her life. The events that follow are moreso results of where she was more than what she did.
Though The Lost Girl of Astor Street is subtly critical of the era’s sexim, it engages in sexism itself through Piper’s own words. At one point, Piper says that she knows losing sleep over Lydia’s disappearance is pointless, but “[she’s] a girl.” Implying that she does pointless things like being emotional because she’s a girl? Ew. It’s also odd that non-Piper female characters have a lot of their character centered around a man. Lydia’s defining trait is her love for her family chauffeur Matthew; Piper’s future stepmother Jane Miller has no traits at all outside of being Piper’s father’s fiancee.
The well-drawn setting and instinct-driven heroine will make is an easy sell for teens who live by the phrase “well-behaved women seldom make history.” Piper is no well-behaved woman and the open ending leaves open the possibility of sequels. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Piper continue to terrorize the Chicago underworld with her tenacity! Its pacing is uneven toward the second half and Piper’s hardwork doesn’t achieve a satisfying payoff, but it remains a fun romp through 1924 Chicago’s gangster-ridden streets.