2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas

Crown. Aug. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780804140232. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780804140249. F
OrangeReviewStarAlmost ten years old, Madeleine Altimari is a self-described "poor motherless girl in old stockings." Often hungry but pragmatically compensating for her grieving father's neglect, she's a mouthy old soul who doesn't play nice with others. What Madeleine does do is live and breathe jazz. On Christmas Eve, she is determined, at all costs, to sing at a run-down Philadelphia jazz bar called the Cat's Pajamas. Her teacher Sarina Greene whose love for an old flame is unrequited (or so she thinks) is also drawn to the Cat's Pajamas. Lorca, the bar's owner, has just been informed that his bar will be shut down unless he comes up with an impossible sum of money to cover his countless citations and bring the place up to code. That these threads converge is a given. The surprise is in the purely original construction of an irresistible story that takes place in just 24 hours.
VERDICT By the fourth sentence of the first page, readers will fall in love with debut author Bertino; delighted adoration of Madeleine will take another half page. This assured, moving, brilliantly funny tale of music, mourning, and off-kilter romance entrances with its extraordinarily inventive language. Be prepared for a quick reread of this novel to try to answer the question: How did Bertino do that? [See Prepub Alert, 2/3/14.]

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