An enchanting novel about one day in the lives of a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old, her fifth grade teacher, and a jazz club owner as they search for love, music, and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia.
What’s enchanting is the way that most everyone – no matter how fixed at the story’s outset – is moving towards the same sublime adolescent freedom as Madeleine. It’s our privilege as readers to not just witness this mass unfettering, but to share in it: we feel the new lightness in each character’s step ... As we follow the antic momentum towards the Cat’s Pajamas (and, we assume, the hour of 2 A.M.), the book shimmers with pratfalls and wit, feeling at once real-to-life and larger-than ... One question: is it possible for a group of characters to be too charismatic? If so, that was my only real objection to Bertino’s novel ... Bertino draws rich and real human beings with enviably few strokes of the pen. Instead of feeling overcrowded, the book feels lively, with the jostling energy of…well, a club.
Now, you already know where this book is headed — if you haven't figured that out yet, take another gander at the title — and that sense of predestination isn't the only thing about this book that reminded me of a finely honed sitcom. The book isn't a pure comedy, exactly, but Bertino's plot points still land like punch lines, delivered with a brief setup before being shouldered aside to make way for the next one. Most characters are dressed with an eccentricity or two, thrust onto stage to speak a few quips and herded off to wait until they're called again. Bertino's Philadelphia brims with such quirk and coincidence, it begs for a studio audience — both for better and for worse ... This sprightly tone, while entertaining, doesn't serve the story quite as well when Bertino ventures into rougher waters ... Bertino has a knack for turning phrases, and she uses it to make otherwise mundane observations into jabs in the gut ... And while the story may feel as if it's told in punch lines, more often than not, those punch lines hit their mark.
The story of a lonely 9-year-old girl’s quest to perform at a Philadelphia jazz club on Christmas Eve rolls along much like a piece of music — different story lines wind and unwind like musical themes, and these stories are all threaded together with a consistently energized brio like one of the tunes played at the club giving the book its title. Each sentence, as well, is composed with a poetic ear; no line is wasted. That’s rare ... Bertino lays out these interlocking stories in brief bursts, the transitions between them as smooth but also as dynamic and as effective as jump cuts in a film ... It would be easy to say, given the lyrical nature of the prose here, that Bertino is going too far, that she’s trying to poeticize difficult subject matter: bereavement, romantic frustration, lust, alcoholism, a child’s alienation. In the jazz club scenes, the language takes on a faintly bebop quality that edges toward Kerouac. But careful thought and another look at the words on the page give a different impression. Bertino gets inside people, objects and experiences in the novel, imagining them, exploring them and reporting her experiences.