This is a book that may not be for everyone – there are issues of child sexual abuse, self mutilation, drug addiction and some domestic abuse. In saying that, it’s also a well written, powerful story of a young woman who has to battle her demons and come out of it into a better place. It’s also a story that has strong female friendship among the glitz and glamour of old Las Vegas in the 1960s, which Ms Church portrays very well.
It begins with eight year old Lily Decker finding herself as an orphan after a car crash kills her parents and sister; her life is further turned upside down after she is sent to live with her aunt and uncle who aren’t parent material of any sort. The aunt is distant and strict, and her uncle is a pedophile. The nightly visits he makes to Lily’s bed are not glossed over, so take that as a warning if that is a trigger for you. The only thing that brings Lily joy is dancing, and she is able to take lessons thanks to an “anonymous” donation from the man who drove the other car involved in the accident that killed her family. She refers to him as Aviator, since he is an aircraft pilot, and he is the only one who seems to understand Lily as she grows up.
Once she turns 18, she escapes to Las Vegas to seek fortune and fame, changing her name to Ruby Wilde. She soon realizes that her small town skills are not enough to get the job she wants, however. A chance meeting with another young woman whose friends are showgirls leads Rose to audition for a job, and her sensuality and stunning good looks help to land it easily. It doesn’t take long for her to become one of the most popular girls on the strip, helping her to acquire the money and the fame she had been hoping to find. It’s a fascinating look at the life of a showgirl in that time period – all the famous names that graced the stage, all the amazing costumes and jewelry, all the fantastic dance routines and the allure of the casinos and the men who showered them with gifts. Unfortunately, it’s not all rosy for Rose and she has to deal with drug addiction, and a relationship with a man who takes advantage of her and plays into her need to feel pain.
Through it all, I found the friendships Rose forms with the other women to be very real and warm. They weren’t all perfect, but they were supportive and inspiring, helping each other through good times and bad. Rose’s relationship with the Aviator is also an integral part of the book, especially at the end, when she needs to deal with another issue and get away from Vegas. I wasn’t as taken with the ending, as it seemed to be a little too sweet and fairy tale after everything else that happened. And yet I was sorry to see the end, as I wanted to read more about Lily/Rose and how the rest of her life turned out.