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How The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis Captures the Drama and Danger of 1950s New York

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis: A Book Review


If you are looking for a captivating historical fiction novel that explores the lives of two women in the theater world during the turbulent times of McCarthyism, you might want to check out The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis. In this book, Davis takes us on a journey from the battlefields of World War II to the bright lights of Broadway to the bohemian atmosphere of the Chelsea Hotel, where art, politics, and friendship collide.

Read The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

What is The Chelsea Girls about?

The Chelsea Girls is a novel that spans from the 1940s to the 1960s, following the twenty-year friendship of two women who meet as performers in a USO tour during World War II. Hazel Riley is a playwright who dreams of putting her own show on Broadway, while Maxine Mead is a glamorous actress who loves the spotlight. Together, they face the challenges and opportunities of the theater industry, as well as the dangers and pressures of McCarthyism, which threatens to destroy their careers and their bond.

Who are the main characters?

The novel alternates between the perspectives of Hazel and Maxine, giving us insight into their personalities, motivations, and secrets. Hazel is a smart, ambitious, and loyal woman who has a passion for writing and a talent for creating compelling stories. She is also a survivor of a traumatic childhood, which makes her wary of trusting others. Maxine is a beautiful, charming, and adventurous woman who has a knack for captivating audiences and attracting admirers. She is also a risk-taker who likes to live on the edge, sometimes with devastating consequences.

What are the main themes?

The novel explores several themes that are relevant to both the historical context and the contemporary reader. Some of these themes are:

  • The impact of war on individuals and society

  • The power and responsibility of art and creativity

  • The complexity and dynamics of female friendship

  • The influence and injustice of politics and ideology

  • The importance and difficulty of finding one's identity and voice

Plot Summary

Part One: USO Tour

Hazel and Maxine meet in Naples

The novel begins in 1945, when Hazel and Maxine are part of a USO tour that entertains American troops in Europe. They meet for the first time in Naples, Italy, where they perform a musical comedy called Sweethearts of Swing. Hazel is the writer and director of the show, while Maxine is one of the lead actresses. They quickly become friends, bonding over their love for theater and their desire to make it big in New York.

Hazel writes a play inspired by Maxine

As the tour continues, Hazel is inspired by Maxine's life story and decides to write a play based on it. The play, titled The Chelsea Girls, tells the story of two women who meet in a USO tour and become friends, but then face the challenges of post-war America and the rise of McCarthyism. Hazel hopes that the play will be her ticket to Broadway, and that Maxine will star in it.

Maxine falls in love with a soldier

Meanwhile, Maxine falls in love with a handsome and mysterious soldier named Mick Callahan, who is part of the military intelligence. She believes that he is the one for her, and that they will get married and live happily ever after. However, she soon discovers that he has a dark and dangerous side, and that he is involved in a covert operation that puts them both in danger.

Part Two: Broadway

Hazel and Maxine reunite in New York

The novel then jumps to 1950, when Hazel and Maxine reunite in New York after losing touch for a few years. Hazel has been working as a script reader for a Broadway producer, while Maxine has been traveling around the world as a movie star. They are both excited to work on The Chelsea Girls, which has finally been picked up by a theater company. They hope that the play will be a success and that it will revive their friendship.

Hazel's play gets a chance on Broadway

The play goes through several stages of development, from readings to rehearsals to previews. Hazel faces various challenges as a playwright, such as dealing with creative differences, budget constraints, and technical issues. She also has to deal with the interference of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which is investigating suspected communists in the entertainment industry. Hazel is worried that her play might be targeted by the committee, especially since it deals with controversial topics such as war, politics, and feminism.

Maxine faces the threat of McCarthyism

Maxine also faces the threat of McCarthyism, as she is accused of being a communist sympathizer by a gossip columnist named Gabby Preston. Gabby is a former friend of Maxine's who has turned into her enemy after a bitter falling out. Gabby uses her influence and connections to smear Maxine's reputation and sabotage her career. Maxine tries to fight back, but she soon realizes that she has more enemies than she thought, and that some of them are closer than she expected.

Part Three: The Chelsea Hotel

Hazel and Maxine move into the Chelsea Hotel

The novel then moves to 1962, when Hazel and Maxine move into the Chelsea Hotel, a famous landmark that houses many artists, writers, musicians, and actors. They hope that living in the hotel will help them reconnect with their creative spirit and their friendship. They also hope that they can finally put behind them the troubles and traumas of the past decade.

Hazel discovers a shocking secret about Maxine

However, Hazel soon discovers a shocking secret about Maxine that changes everything. She learns that Maxine has been hiding something from her for years, something that involves Mick Callahan and the USO tour. Hazel feels betrayed and hurt by Maxine's deception, and wonders if she ever really knew her friend at all.

Hazel and Maxine confront their past and future

Hazel and Maxine have to confront their past and their future, as they face the consequences of their actions and decisions. They have to decide whether they can forgive each other and themselves, whether they can salvage their friendship and their careers, and whether they can find happiness and peace in their lives.

Analysis and Evaluation

The historical setting of the novel

One of the strengths of the novel is its historical setting, which immerses the reader in the different eras and places that shape the characters' lives. Davis does a great job of recreating the atmosphere and details of each period, from the war-torn Europe of the 1940s to the glamorous Hollywood of the 1950s to the eclectic New York of the 1960s. She also incorporates real historical figures and events into the story, such as Joseph McCarthy, Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and more. The novel gives us a glimpse into the social and cultural changes that occurred during those decades, as well as the political tensions and conflicts that affected many people's lives.

The portrayal of female friendship

Here is the rest of the article with HTML formatting: female friendship, art, and creativity. I would rate this book 4 out of 5 stars, as I found it engaging, informative, and emotional.


Here are some frequently asked questions about The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis:

  • Is The Chelsea Girls based on a true story?

No, The Chelsea Girls is not based on a true story, but it is inspired by real historical events and figures. The novel incorporates facts and details about the USO tour, the Broadway scene, the McCarthy hearings, and the Chelsea Hotel. The novel also features some real historical characters, such as Joseph McCarthy, Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and more.

  • Who is the author of The Chelsea Girls?

The author of The Chelsea Girls is Fiona Davis, a New York Times bestselling author of historical fiction novels set in iconic New York City buildings. Some of her other novels include The Dollhouse, The Address, The Lions of Fifth Avenue, and The Magnolia Palace. She is a former actress who has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

  • What is the genre of The Chelsea Girls?

The Chelsea Girls is a historical fiction novel, which means that it is a fictional story that is set in a specific historical time and place. Historical fiction novels often use real historical events and figures as part of their plot and background. Historical fiction novels can also belong to other subgenres, such as romance, mystery, thriller, or fantasy.

  • When was The Chelsea Girls published?

The Chelsea Girls was published on July 30, 2019 by Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. The novel has 368 pages and is available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats.

  • Where can I buy The Chelsea Girls?

You can buy The Chelsea Girls from various online and offline retailers, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble,, IndieBound, Walmart, Target, and more. You can also borrow The Chelsea Girls from your local library or download it from your preferred digital platform.


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