All the Beautiful Girls

Written by Elizabeth J. Church
Review by Kate Braithwaite

All the Beautiful Girls tells the story of Lily Decker, a young Kansas girl who is the only member of her family to survive a tragic car crash in 1957. Aged eight, Lily goes to live with her aunt and uncle, but the abuse she suffers at their hands affects her for years to come. Despite the challenges she faces as a young girl, Lily is determined to transform herself, and as a young woman she changes her name to Ruby Wilde and heads to Las Vegas to make her fortune as a dancer. The key to her escape is the driver of the other car involved in her parents’ accident, the man she calls the Aviator, who is haunted by his role in her family’s death.

This is a beautifully written and thoughtful novel with strong themes of love, trust, guilt, family and friendship. Lily’s adventures in Las Vegas are vividly realized. Richly evocative descriptions of the life of the Vegas showgirl, brim with color. Church portrays Las Vegas as a glittering bubble, in stark contrast to national events that Lily’s reacts to, including the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Manson murders, and the Vietnam War. These are seamlessly woven into Ruby’s personal journey, and there are even cameo appearances when she meets stars like Tom Jones and Sammy Davis, Jr. But as she finds friends, work and love, the demons from the past dog Lily, and the darker parts of this coming-of-age story are as eloquently and clearly described as the glitz and sparkle of the Las Vegas stage. As a result, Lily’s story is moving and believable. She is a flawed character but someone you have to root for. Highly recommended.