Title: Astrid Sees All
Author: Natalie Standiford
Publisher: Atria Books
Source: NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
New York’s last bohemia—the glittering, decadent downtown club scene of the 1980s—is the setting for this brilliantly winning novel about a smart, vulnerable young woman taking a deep dive into her dark side, essential for fans of Sweetbitter, Fleabag, and books by Patti Smith.
New York, 1984: Twenty-two-year-old Phoebe Hayes is a young woman in search of excitement and adventure. But the recent death of her father has so devastated her that her mother wants her to remain home in Baltimore to recover. Phoebe wants to return to New York, not only to chase the glamorous life she so desperately craves but also to confront Ivan, the older man who painfully wronged her.
With her best friend Carmen, she escapes to the East Village, disappearing into an underworld haunted by artists, It Girls, and lost souls trying to party their pain away. Carmen juggles her junkie-poet boyfriend and a sexy painter while, as Astrid the Star Girl, Phoebe tells fortunes in a nightclub and plots her revenge on Ivan.
When the intoxicating brew of sex, drugs, and self-destruction leads Phoebe to betray her friend, Carmen disappears, and Phoebe begins an unstoppable descent into darkness. She may have a chance to save herself—and Carmen, if she can find her—but to do it she must face what’s hiding in the shadows she’s been running from—within her heart and in the dangerous midnight streets.
A love letter to gritty 1980s New York City, Astrid Sees All is an irresistible, original novel about female friendship, sex and romance, and what it’s like to be a young woman searching for an identity.
It took me a while (a few chapters) to get into this one but once I did, I couldn’t put it down and finished it in a day. I was still in middle school during the time this book was set. MTV was a few years old but pictures of celebrities in New York were all over the gossip and teen magazines. Some of those same celebrities make brief appearances in this novel.
I was reminded of how bad trash smells in NYC during hot summers and was thankful there wasn’t an olfactory component to the book. I’ve no doubt the place Phoebe and Carmen end up living in smelled just as bad. It felt very true to the times for gay men to be dying of an unnamed illness and for young women to disappear in the city and to seemingly have no one looking out for the dying and the missing.
Standiford plays with time a little bit in that she uses flashbacks to show where Phoebe and Carmen met in school, the time Phoebe spends at home during the funeral, and so on. She perfectly shows how it can be easy to feel like you’re not “cool” enough or interesting enough for people to want to be around and the lengths a person will go to be liked. I loved the fortune telling job.
Overall, I found the novel very compelling but didn’t like how neatly Carmen’s disappearance was wrapped up at the end.