It’s 7 a.m. on December 23, and Madeleine Altimari is shimmying. In 30-second intervals, the girl attempts to perfect her moves, pausing in between for a quick drag from a cigarette. After each interval, she rates her work on a school-letter scale. She has yet to check off the day’s other rehearsal tasks: singing, scales, guitar.

Madeleine is two days shy of 10.

She doesn’t know it yet, but Madeleine is about to embark on one of the most sensational days of her young life. She dreams of life as a jazz singer, and after a particularly challenging day at her Philadelphia Catholic school, Madeleine will set out to make that dream a reality. She may have to break some rules and step on some toes in the process, but Madeline doesn’t mind; her heart is set on song.

Across town, Madeleine’s fifth-grade teacher, Sarina Greene, is preparing a special day for her students and anticipating a dinner party that will reunite her with high school friends. Meanwhile, Jack Lorca faces a fine that could lead to the demise of the Cat’s Pajamas, the legendary jazz club he inherited from his father. As the minutes tick past, their individual paths become intertwined.

2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas, the debut novel by One Story editor Marie-Helene Bertino, chronicles the ordinary moments that add up to one memorable day in the lives of Madeleine and those around her. Bertino’s prose easily dips in and out of the lives of her characters as she weaves them together, including insight into secondary figures at each turn. With vivid description and great character development, Bertino brings Philadelphia and its inhabitants to life in an unforgettable tale.


This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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