From New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Tessaro comes a poignant, funny, and unforgettable story of real life, real love, and fantasy—and the changes they put you through.
1986. Starry-eyed and ready to take the world by storm, Evie Garlick leaves her small town of Eden, Ohio, to study drama in London, intent on becoming a star of the classical stage. But when she arrives in England, it quickly becomes clear she’s way out of her element—and completely unprepared for what fate has in store for her.
Luckily, her new flatmate, the larger-than-life Robbie, immediately takes the bewildered Evie under her wing. Glamorous and bohemian, Robbie’s unorthodox Greenwich Village upbringing and reckless lust for life both dazzle and astonish Evie. Soon the drama offstage in their small student flat is more exciting than any Broadway play. And when Evie meets Jake, a defiantly self-assured young musician bent on two things—success and her—she finds herself suddenly in far too deep, painfully in love, out of control, and yet thrillingly alive, questioning everything about herself—and her dreams.
2001. Robbie has been dead for five years, and Evie, now a single mother, is still living in London. Resigned to earning a living by teaching drama to night students, her life bears little resemblance to the one she’d imagined for herself fifteen years ago. Her carefully ordered routine and beloved son help to keep the memories and regrets at bay—most of the time. But when the past pays Evie a visit, she’s forced to confront the ambitious young woman she used to be and re-examine the choices she made…and those she couldn’t—in order to claim a new future.
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About the Author
Kathleen Tessaro is the author of Elegance, Innocence, The Flirt, The Debutante, The Perfume Collector, and Rare Objects. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband and son.
Read an Excerpt
I'm seated next to a redheaded woman on the plane. My supper of creamed chicken royal and boiled rice sits untouched in front of me. Instead, I stare at my new Keith Haring Swatch watch (a going-away gift from my boyfriend, Jonny). It's my first trip abroad. In only eight hours and twenty-two minutes, we'll be landing in London and a whole new chapter of my life will begin. Who can eat chicken at a time like this?
The redhead can. She's an old hand at foreign travel. Lighting another cigarette, she smiles at me.
"Oh, London's great! Great pubs. And you can have fish and chips. Chips is English for French fries," she translates. "They put salt and vinegar on them over there."
"Ewwww!" I say, ever the sophisticate.
"But it's good! You have them with mushy peas."
"Peas!" she laughs. "They're sort of smashed up. You don't have to have them."
"Oh, but I want to!" I assure her quickly. "I want to try everything!" She exhales. "Where are you from?"
"Is that near Akron?"
"Actually, it's not near anything."
"And what are you doing? Studying?"
"Drama. I'm going to be an actress. A classical actress," I add, just in case she gets the idea I'm going to sell out. "I've been accepted into the Actors Drama Workshop Academy. Maybe you've heard of it?" She shakes her head. "Is that like RADA?"
"Well, you're a pretty girl. I'm sure you'll be a big star." And she nods, drumming her long, pink nails against the shared armrest. "Yeah, London will be the making of you. It's a long way from Ohio, kid."
That's exactly what I'm hoping for.
I don't fit in in Ohio. I don't fit in anywhere yet. But back home, nobody seems to get me -- apart from my boyfriend, Jonny. He's going to study graphic arts at CMU next term. He understands what it's like to be an artistic soul trapped in a working class town. That's why we get on so well. I pull out his going-away letter to me and read it one more time.
I know this is going to be a completely amazing adventure for you, babe. And I can't wait to hear each installment. Write often. Never lose faith in yourself. And think of me slaving away over my drawing board, dreaming of you and your perfect, beautiful face until you get back ... safe and warm in my arms. I'm so proud of you.
My darling Jonny.
We've been dating for nearly two years. When I get back, we're going to live together. In New York City, if things work out. Already I can see us: drinking coffee in the mornings, padding about in our loft apartment overlooking Central Park -- sometimes there's a dog in the picture, sometimes it's just us.
Folding the letter carefully, I slip it back into the side pocket of my carry-on bag.
I think of my parents, standing next to one another at the departure gate of Cleveland Airport. They just couldn't understand why I needed to go so far away; why anyone would ever want to leave the States. I'm the only person in my family with a passport.
There's a whole, entire world bursting with beautiful language, enormous, crushing emotions and stories so powerful, they break your heart in two -- just not in Eden, Ohio. How can I explain to them that I want to be part of it? To rub up against the culture that inspired Shakespeare and Sheridan, Coward and Congreve; the wit of Wilde, the satire of Shaw, the sheer wickedness of Orton ... I want to see it, touch it; experience it all firsthand instead of reading about it in books, in between taking orders at Doughnut Express.
And at last, I'm on the verge.
Leaning back in my seat, I gaze out of the window. Somewhere, far below, my parents are driving back home now, thinking about what to have for dinner. And just beyond this expanse of blue, on a small, green island, people I've yet to meet are drifting off to sleep, dreaming of what tomorrow might hold.
The stewardess leans over, collecting my tray of untouched food. "Not hungry?"
I shake my head.
The next meal I eat will be fish and chips.
With plenty of mushy peas.
The Belle View Hotel and Guesthouse in Russell Square is considerably darker, colder and altogether more brown than the pictures in the brochure. The rooms, so spacious and inviting in the leaflet, are cell-like and lavishly appointed with tea and coffee making facilities (a kettle and teacup on a plastic tray) and a basin in the corner. Boiling hot water steams out of one tap, icy cold from the other. A certain amount of speed and physical endurance is required to wash your face but the reward is a genuine feeling of accomplishment.
However, the reality of shared bathroom facilities is another matter. No amount of counselling could prepare me for crouching naked in a shallow tub of tepid water while three large German businessmen wrapped in nothing but old bathrobes lurk outside the door. The whole experience is like a trip to the gynaecologist's, simultaneously intimate and deeply unpleasant. The English must have a relationship with their bodies that's alien to me; like a couple who are divorced but still living together in the same house; forced to be polite to someone they hate.
After bathing, and making myself an instant coffee (breakfast with the Germans is a bridge too far), the time has come. I'm ready to visit the offices of the Actors Drama Workshop Academy in North London and introduce myself to the people who are going to mould the rest of my life ...Innocence. Copyright © by Kathleen Tessaro. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was an entertaining book that was easy to breeze right through. The juxtaposition of the past and present was presented quite well, and Evie's first years in London were definitely the most amusing. However I felt that the author kept building up and up, but once it peaked, it was all downhill. No grand finale or anything. While it was entertaining and contained extremely intriguing characters, there were times when I wondered, what exactly is the point? If you're looking for a vacation read, this is a good one.
I noticed some reviewers commenting on the plot and/or abrupt ending. If you just apply some common sense and thought you will understand and love this book and leave with an "ah ha" moment. I didn't find it to be a young adult read book as the plot may appear, it dives into the common struggle people face to either follow your heart or your head and the results of the path you choose. Includes an intimate, detailed picture of Evie's life in London 80's with fast friends, vicious heartbreaking love, wild lifestyle and endless self discovery all while clashing with her responsible love for acting and the theater. A very good quick, fun, enlightening book. Highly recommended! Can't wait to read her other books. xoxo_leigh
I loved the book, but I was disappointed by the ending. It just seemed to end without drawing a solid conclusion. However, the book does draw you in and makes you wonder if there really is hope when all is lost. I would recommend this book if you can read between the lines and find your own satisfaction in knowing what 'hope' and 'faith' really means.
When Evie Garlick left Eden, Ohio for London she dreamed of becoming the toast of the town as a stage actress. However, she never achieves her aspirations settling for teaching as she rationalizes that she gave up ambition to raise her son as a single mom.---------------- Lately she dreams of her late dearest friend Robbie, who came from New York when she did. He lived life to the fullest until he died in a car accident. In her dreams Robbie lectures her to stop using her son to hide from life. He insists she relook over her past lovers and her choices over the past fifteen years and reconsider is that what she truly wanted out of her life. Robbie demands she regain the élan she once had as a teen and dream to love again if she is to live again beyond the identity of single mother.----------------- This is a terrific character study that looks at an individual who sacrificed her dreams to raise her son, but now dreams of what could have been. The key to the tale is that though Evie has regrets, she does not apologize for loving her son. Through Robbie¿s ¿reappearance¿ she wonders if she could have both though his spirit forces her to admit she wasted several years hiding from love. Fans of a powerful and insightful look at a person¿s psyche will want to read Kathleen Tessaro¿s fabulous sharp tale of a second chance at living if her everyday heroine finds the courage to go for it.-------- Harriet Klausner
This book is very easy to read.I liked the characters in the book,but I was expecting the story to be more interesting.And if anyone can tell me what happened to Robbie. I didnt get the point of the ending.
As the title implies, Innocence is about three young women in London, learning about themselves as leave home for the first time and attend acting school. Fourteen years later, as Evie faces a turning point in her life in her adult life, she flashbacks to the days of 'innocence' that lead her to where she is today. When she is on the mark, Kathleen Tessaro writes prose you want to roll your tongue around and savour like fine wine. It is dense, delectable and begging to be spoken aloud - 'In summer, the fig tree drops its heavy fruit to form a thick, gooey compote on the pavement below...' Her gift is for descriptions that draw you in, setting the mood for her characters, 'It's like a house in a Victorian play; overflowing with life, busy with knowledge and experience. Even the dogs lolling about on the oriental carpet are engaged in battles of good versus evil.' I thoroughly enjoyed her debut novel Elegance, but in my mind her sophomore effort, Innocence, is the more fulfilling read. This is most likely due to Evie who, from her impassioned defence of love at eighteen to her contemplation of her co-worker ('Each week, I marvel in fascination at the fragments of R. Fitzroy's life as they unfold before me'), reminds me of myself. Evie's confusion as she stands at the crossroads, unable to make a choice in any direction can find resonance for all of us.
I really had a hard time staying with this book. The characters were hard to relate to or find all that interesting. Maybe it was just not my type of story. If you are looking for an easy light hearted read this is not it, but if you want something deeper with more underlying issues and meanings you may enjoy. My advice would be to find it on sale somewhere, don't rush out and pay full price!