Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: The Boston Girl

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night, comes an unforgettable novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century.

Addie Baum is The Boston Girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents who were unprepared for and suspicious of America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie’s intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can’t imagine—a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture, and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love.

Eighty-five-year-old Addie tells the story of her life to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, who has asked her “How did you get to be the woman you are today.” She begins in 1915, the year she found her voice and made friends who would help shape the course of her life. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the na├»ve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor.

Written with the same attention to historical detail and emotional resonance that made Anita Diamant’s previous novels bestsellers, The Boston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in twentieth century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world. -- Scribner

Ever since I read THE RED TENT, I have been interested in anything and everything Anita Diamant writes. Her latest novel THE BOSTON GIRL and it tells the story of a Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century.

The story begins when an 85 year old Addie Baum is asked by her 22 year old granddaughter, "How did you get to be the woman you are today?" Addie begins with describes her youth where she lived in Boston's North End, a multicultural neighborhood, with her immigrant parents and two sisters. She explains that she always wanted to be a "real" American and she was drawn to a world where women had opportunities outside of being homemakers and mothers. Addie wants to not only finish high school, but attend college; and she also wants to find the man of her dreams. Needless to say, she didn't feel as if her parents really understood her.

Addie continues her story throughout her young adult life as she joins a reading club at her local library, attends a summer camp for young women, and gets a secretarial job and then a writing gig at a newspaper. In addition, she shares with her granddaughter the special relationships she formed along the way.

I enjoyed THE BOSTON GIRL and found it interesting to follow Addie's story about growing up in the 20th century in Boston. I thought Addie was a terrific character and I truly rooted for her to find success and happiness. I also appreciated how Ms. Diamant incorporated so much of 20th century history into the book through Addie's story. There were some fascinating details about wars, the flu epidemic and more.

As I reflect on THE BOSTON GIRL, I did enjoy the novel quite a bit, but it wasn't exactly a book I couldn't put down. Addie's story was interesting, but it was almost too real... if that makes sense. As I read this novel, I often times had to remind myself that this book was fiction. Addie's story was heartwarming, but it wasn't exactly full of jaw-dropping scenes.

Having said that, I do think Addie's story is an important one. It's hard to believe how much woman and their roles have changed during that past century, and I thought Addie was a wonderful example to demonstrate this theme. I definitely appreciate how this novel gives today's reader an idea of how our grandmothers and great grandmothers (and all the women who lived before us) paved the way for us to be whatever we want to be -- whether it be career women, mothers, stay-at-home moms, etc. And Addie's story proved that it wasn't always easy to be "different" -- a valuable lesson for individuals of all ages.

THE BOSTON GIRL would make a wonderful book club selection. I think it would be interesting for everyone to share some stories about their female ancestors. In addition, there is a reading guide available with twelve questions along with some ideas to enhance your book club meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parent/child relationships, friendships, art, the role of women through the ages, immigrants, grief, and guilt.

THE BOSTON GIRL is an interesting look at how the roles of women have changed throughout the 20th century through the eyes of one woman's story. Recommended to fans of Ms. Diamant and women's literature.

Thanks to the publisher who provided a review copy of this novel.


ChaosIsAFriendOfMine said...

This reminds me that I never read The Red Tent and I always meant to. I'll have to read that first and then give this one a try.

bermudaonion said...

I have a feeling my mom can relate to Addie - she's close to the same age, had immigrant parents, and grew up in a multicultural neighborhood.