|The Boston Girl
3.5 / 5
"Ava, sweetheart, if you ask me to talk about how I got to be the woman I am today, what do you think I'm going to say?"
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night, comes an unforgettable coming-of-age novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of 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 naïve 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.
I have had this book on my shelf for a few months, and actually partly picked it up so I would stop getting the Pushstars song stuck in my head every time I saw it. Plus, my sister (whose taste is uncannily similar to my own) really enjoyed it, and knowing Diamant from The Red Tent, I looked forward to seeing her writing in a more modern setting.
I was a little disappointed though, because I think I expected more North End Boston (the one-time home of me and my sisters, at various times) and the book certainly didn't focus too much on that place, although it got its mentions. The book takes place all over Boston, which I suppose is the reason it’s not called “The North End Girl”, and the author does the entire city justice - you can see her love for its history.
I loved the conceptual notion of the main character, Addie: she was a strong, smart, independent first-generation American woman, who figured life out on her own terms. However, as much as I liked her and probably would have wanted to be her friend had I met her in real life, I felt as if there was something missing that didn't allow me to care about her as much as I would have liked. Granted, I couldn't put this book down; I sped through it in two days. But I was unable to entirely connect. Luckily, the story carries the reader along, and there is enough personality in the book from all of Addie’s family and friends that you still do grow to care to know what happens. While the point of the book is only really about the love Addie has for those she holds dear, I found myself tearing up a bit at the end. So that says something.
I found the chapter titles interesting: each was a significant sentence pulled from the following pages which embodied the spirit of what was being said. I am not quite sure how I felt about that style. Knowing how things were set up, though, I often found myself flipping back to see what sentence had been pulled from the preceding pages, and taking a moment to ponder the significance. I don’t recall if that is a Diamant idiosyncrasy or if it was just used for this book, but I do think it made me sit for a moment after every chapter to consider the important phrases. I think I liked that.
Overall, the book was a lovely little portrait of a young Jewish girl finding her way in early 1900s Boston. I thought it was a charming story about family and independence. Certainly a great summer read for the beach or a long trip.
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