The idea of a story about an African American dancer with talent and an Irish American Prize fighter set in the 1930s was vastly intriguing to me particularly because of the time period and the setting there in New York. The story really delves into the heart of what life was like for people who strayed from their place and their class. Celeste is a Modern Woman running from herself and her past and Shane is a man who has big dreams and the guts to see them through. The story is told from both their perspectives. The voice of the story was perfect for the time.
Celeste Newsome is a talented ‘hoofer’ as a dancer was called back then. She’d made it almost to the top and sabotaged herself because of her thing for booze and men. She lives high and she lives big, but it’s all just a cover for the aching emptiness and feelings of never being good enough that her father instilled before she left home and his rules at fifteen. But the past in the way of her father’s death brings her back home to her old New York neighborhood, her cross dressing cousin Trudy and her old stomping grounds. The past also introduces her to ‘Sugar’ Shane Brennan a talented young light heavyweight boxer set to compete for a title match at the Gardens.
Shane comes to pay his respects to a man who was like a father to him in so many ways when he runs up against the man’s wild daughter. Knowing what he knows, he should walk away, but he can’t. Celeste is like a magnet and he can’t get enough of being around her even when she repeatedly tries to give him the brush off. She tells him that she’s bad news, but he doesn’t care. Meanwhile, the would-be power and the power brokers in the city are immensely interested in him whether its to take a fall or to win his big match. They don’t care for his interest in a woman of color either, but Shane’s tough and determined to see things through whether its his career or with Celeste.
Celeste determines that for once she’s going to work hard for her old abandoned dreams of being a star and she’s going to do it with no booze or men propping her up. She even comes face to face with the first man to break her heart. Though Shane and her have their issues, he is a part of her new-found strength and determination. Opening up to Shane, scares her to death, but he won’t let her brush him aside. Just when things are going well for them, Shane’s secrets come back to haunt them and they’re enough to break things wide open.
I really enjoyed this story with its tough yet vulnerable flawed characters, its ‘rock and hard place’ situations and just the uniqueness of the love story. Now this next part is going to make me sound confusing because while I really liked Celeste and Shane together and liked watching the characters grow, I didn’t like Celeste many times. Her life was difficult, but, from what I could see, it was difficult due to her own choices. She tried to play it tough and unemotional as a result. She toyed with people and used them. Then she has a good thing going with Shane, but she’s always ready to bail at the slightest thing. In the end when his secret comes out, I am totally okay with the fact that she was angry and felt betrayed that he kept something from her, but her reaction (again) was extreme in my mind. He only withheld information; he didn’t actually do the wrong deed, but she was acting like he did. It was pretty hypocritical too since she didn’t even care about the person to which Shane’s secret related. In the end, I guess it made for a bit more tension and drama and made the reconciliation all the sweeter.
The world of glitzy Harlem night life, dancing troupes, segregation & bigotry, boxing and mobs was all well told. It was there, but it didn’t dominate the characters and their stories.
Those who enjoy historical fiction and romance from the Depression era about characters with lots of grit and passion should give this story a try.