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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Title: The Boston Girl

Author: Anita Diamant
Publisher: 9th December 2014 by Scribner
Pages:  256 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, coming of age
Our Rating: three crowns


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 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, TheBoston 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.

My thoughts:

Anita Diamant's novel begins with a question: "How did you get to be the woman you are today?" Thus follows the telling of a remarkable tale, one so well written, that at times you have to remind yourself it is indeed fiction.

This is the story of Addie Baum - Jewish daughter to immigrant parents; she grew up during the mid-1900s in Boston. As a teenager Addie is asked to recite “Paul Revere’s Ride” at the Saturday Club, a group for young women from many different religious and ethnic backgrounds who gather together each weekend.  This is the beginning of Addie’s journey – a journey that would develop her fortitude and intellect, as she forms friendships, faces family tragedies, follows her aspirations in exploring her career options and eventually finding romance. Diamant covers a lot of history as Addie’s story unfolds: prohibition; 1920s flappers and artists; World War I; The Great Depression; the Spanish Flu; women’s education and careers; journalism and a woman’s place in it.

“People kept saying, ‘Life goes on’. Sometimes that sounded like a wish and sometimes if felt like an order. I wanted to scream, ‘Life goes on? Not for everyone, it doesn’t”.

All of these experiences combine to make Addie the woman she is today, and is representative of a generation of women who pursued freedom in an attempt to make something of their lives, something that traditionally was outside the boundaries of what women should have aspired to.  So many memorable characters are woven throughout this story. I especially enjoyed the independent spirit of several of the women - her sister Betty and Filomena, to name but two.

“Filomena just knew who she was, which wasn’t so easy back then. I guess it’s still not easy, is it? It took me until I was in my forties before I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up”.

My only criticism is in the closing stages of the novel. The last part of the book just felt rushed, a lot of time covered in a few short chapters pertaining to Addie's later years. Given that the majority of the book was such rich story telling, we just felt that the strings of this story were not neatly tied together.

Overall, however, this was an engaging tale that I would recommend to other readers who enjoy this genre and time period.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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