"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 naive 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"--
The novel is presented as a monologue delivered by 85-year-old Addie Baum in response to her granddaughter’s question about how she got to be the woman she is. She chronicles her
The book is dull. It is a plain and predictable recounting of her life: this happened and then this happened and then this happened . . . Things happen to Addie’s family and friends but not to her. At a young age, she is recognized as someone possessing intelligence and “gumption” (15) and so acquires mentors and a circle of sympathetic friends who support her so she is never without a job or a place to live. When tragedies occur in her family, she seems largely detached; she describes her feelings, but she seems to recover quickly. The result is one dull anecdote after another with no suspense since nothing dramatic happens in her life. And once she is married, nothing noteworthy occurs?!
To add to the predictability, the chapter titles clearly indicate what is going to happen. Merely reading the titles will tell a reader what happens in Addie’s life: “You must be the smart one” (47), “Maybe I wouldn’t be a wallflower after all” (65), “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” (115), “I was still gun-shy about men” (143), “A girl should always have her own money” (165), and “This is Auntie Addie’s fella” (249).
The years 1915 to 1927 included some significant world events, yet Addie barely mentions some of them; as a historical narrative, the book does not succeed, although people familiar with Boston might be interested in some of the historical local colour.
The one thing that does stand out is Addie’s voice. Her tone is convincingly conversational and she speaks very frankly to her granddaughter. She can be witty and humourous. Unfortunately, she doesn’t offer any new wisdom; she tells her grandchild, “Don’t let anyone tell you things aren’t better than they used to be” (291). True but trite.
This book is lacking in substance, a shortcoming that means it will not be memorable.
While Addie is spunky, determined, and intelligent, she is also fortunate enough to surround herself with similar women who lead similar gender-equalizing lives. Through these friendships, Addie’s support base is quite large, and her battles are less difficult. In fact, The Boston Girl would be an entirely different story had Addie been on her own. Her friends provide her with the backbone and the safety net she needs to break away from her mother’s tyranny. They help her find jobs when there are few to be had, give her a means to be vocal, and introduce her to all of the modern ideas that come to define her. If anything, one could say Addie is successful because of these connections rather than in spite of them.
Addie is a thoroughly modern girl, but her mother is firmly rooted to her past. The resulting battles are not pretty, and Ms. Diamant does not hold back in describing scenes of what would be viewed as abuse in the modern day. However, readers only see Mameh through Addie’s eyes, which ultimately does her character a disservice. She comes across as bitter and curmudgeonly, almost sadistic in her abilities to torture. However, what little background information Addie provides hints at a well of sorrows which drives her to be so cruel to her youngest daughter. There is an unexplored mystery and a chance to understand Mameh – something about which Ms. Diamond does not capitalize. Addie’s story could be even more impressive if only one could see Mameh’s counterpoint story in greater detail.
As easy and enjoyable as The Boston Girl is, one cannot help but feel the story is a bit too trivial for its subject matter. Addie experiences so much and is fortunate to be at the forefront of so many movements. However, one never gets the sense of their importance. The fact that Addie and her family were able to survive the Great Depression with jobs and adequate food is remarkable. She befriends a lesbian couple without batting an eye. Her best friend enters into an affair with a married man, and no one raises an eyebrow. Addie has an unusual-for-the-time education, a love of literacy and learning, and the means to engage in those passions. Her whole life is one set of extraordinary circumstances combined with a persevering nature, but the circumstances receive minimal attention.
The Boston Girl is entertaining and surprisingly educational in showcasing the battles women fought to obtain access to various careers. Addie’s narrative is thoroughly engaging. Ultimately, there is little to distinguish Addie’s story from other turn-of-the-century feminist stories as there is nothing which makes her totally unforgettable. The nagging criticisms that linger do prevent one from entirely loving the story. Perfectly lovely but ultimately disappointing in its lack of gravitas, The Boston Girl is not the type of novel one expects from the author of The Red Tent.
I have to say straight out that I’m the wrong reader for this book, always a risk when somebody else chooses the reading material. It pings a couple of my prejudices:
First, I don’t like immigrant
Second, the story’s more likely to irritate me if the chosen profession of the main character is: WRITER. Oh, for heaven’s sake, show some imagination, people. Have her be a car mechanic or hitwoman for the Mafia or Prohibition booze manufacturer or something interesting.
So when I tell you that The Boston Girl is about Addie Baum, born to a recently arrived Polish family, whose love of books, general brilliance and modest beauty attracts the attention of various people as she works her way up in the world until she becomes—gasp!—a newspaper writer, you’ll understand why I’m not the Ideal Reader here. This is definitely one of those cases where your mileage may vary enormously.
Another annoyance was the writing. Not that Diamant can’t write well—she can. But the novel was written to about a seventh grade reading comprehension level, and you just KNOW that’s going to bore me. And since it’s Addie who tells the story as an old woman, I fell to wondering why a great writer had such a limited vocabulary. The granddaughter she’s telling it to is an adult, so no excuse there.
Actually, I wasn’t quite sure if Addie became a great writer at all. You’re evidently supposed to think so, since she makes references to people praising her lifetime achievements and all that, but the novel’s pretty vague about what those achievements were.
Addie’s flaw-that-highlights-her-perfection is her cluelessness in matters of men and love. Awwww bless. If she hadn’t been telling her story to her granddaughter, thus revealing from the beginning that she managed to get laid at some point, I might have had hopes that she’d turn out to be a lifelong celibate—BUT NO. After a couple of mishits along comes Mr. Right and the independent Addie is suddenly the type of woman who sits around crying because her man ain’t there at that particular moment.
The most annoying factor of all was the fact that there was never really any plot. Addie grows up, life happens to her, her sisters and her friends, children are born, people die, then the novel just kind of ends. Two world wars happen without a great deal of impact, except for an unconvincing case of shellshock.
The stories I really wanted to hear were those of Addie’s mother and her somehow damaged sister Celia. I totally identified with miserable Mameh, who had to leave the Old Country because of her husband, lost children as a result and could never reconcile herself to America. She just wants the Old Country back, with its familiar language and familiar ways and cabbages that taste good. As I’m an immigrant myself, I quite understood Mameh’s curmudgeonly attitude and felt a great deal of sympathy for her isolation within her homesickness, while everyone else in her family constantly tells her that Everything In America Is Better. Mameh’s only joy is Celia, but that girl too is miserably wounded somewhere because of her transplantation into an alien world. Those would have made great stories but no, we got the tale of the most successful American in the family instead. Mameh seems mostly to exist in order to inject a little conflict into Addie’s life because novels need conflict . . . .
So, not my kind of thing. My initial two-star rating was pure Goodreads “I thought it was OK” because I did think it was OK, as books go. And then I cranked it up to three stars because I lean toward generosity and I could definitely add half a star for the book not being an actual pain in the butt to read. It just wasn’t very interesting for me, and if I hadn’t had a book club date hanging over my head I would have returned it for a refund.
Starting the in early 1900's, Addie's parent's came to the North end of New York from
Addie has seen so much and is a very likable narrator. This book is good but I think I just expected better than good from this author. It is, however, very easy to read, covers much history and tells the story of an admirable woman.
ARC from publisher.
Loved the diversity of Addie's friends, their intelligence, love of learning, acceptance of differences, and how they helped each other and
Addie's sister Celia and their mother are two of the most complex and compelling characters. I would like to have seen at least a chapter or two describing the mother's story explaining her difficult personality.
Ava, her great-grand daughter is interviewing eighty-five year old Addie, about her life and what made her the woman she is today. Through this process we learn of the history of Addie Baum.
Abbie wanted to learn, to take advantage of the things Boston and the changing times were offering even if it meant fighting her family. Her salvation came in the Saturday Club at the settlement house, a mixed group of Irish, Jewish and Italian young women who met to improve and entertain themselves. The friendships Addie made there were lifelong.
“The Boston Girl” is a wonderful tale of a woman who made it and raised herself in society through hard work, her own determination and being willing to take a chance. Diamant, also, in a straight forward tone that fits the Boston setting, lays out through the actions of the characters the social issues of the twentieth century, lack of birth control and access to safe abortions, the racial issues brewing in the southern United States, child labour and women in the workforce.
I enjoyed this book. The characters are well rounded, the events are realistic to the time period and placing the story against the events of the twentieth century adds depth to the novel. Five stars.
Addie Baum struggles to get out from under her unhappy mother's purview and into the wide and wilder world. When she sneaks off for a week at Rockport Lodge, an inn for city girls in Cape Ann, her work and personal lives grow to be elongated and liberated, despite the rigid structures and dictates of her family. Each family member, especially her two sisters Betty and Celia, are so fully realized, along with all the people who burnish and enhance Addie's knowledge and sympathy for those less and more fortunate than she.
The Influenza Pandemic and the war spins by as Addie tells her granddaughter the tales that made for a fascinating and well-lived life. One can almost believe that Addie was real. The reader gets to know her and her friends, family, and co-workers so well that it is with utter regret that we take our leave. There are no clichés here, only the perfect flow of a life expertly relished and told.
The Boston Girl: A Novel was a very enjoyable easy read. It was a conversation between an 85 year old grandmother and her twenty-two year old granddaughter that was
The digital copy that I received required editing. There were numerous errors that I am hopeful were corrected prior to the release date. Additionally, I wish the granddaughter was given more of a voice. Further, the ending was abrupt and a little flat, but all in all the story held my interest and I found it to be a worthwhile read.
Boston Girl presents a wonderfully accurate description of Jewish life, at the turn of the century, with an overbearing mother who is steeped in the traditions and superstitions of the times. The father often appeared gentler, but he truly ruled the roost. His home was his castle, and he had his throne. In my home, a chair was dedicated specifically for my dad. He was the breadwinner. No one would sit his chair. It belonged to him wherever it was, in the living room, the dining room, wherever. It was sacrosanct. However, both parents demanded unquestioned respect and obedience from their offspring.
When Addie was about 16, she came into her own and began to experience life. She had been extremely sheltered, like the Jewish girls of those times, and life was a bit of a surprise and sometimes a disappointment to her, as she learned more about how people interacted with each other and what was expected of her in the general public. Oh, how the times were different. Pre-marital sex was forbidden, dorms were single sex, curfews were in effect, and alcohol was prohibited, although speakeasies proliferated. Abortion was a crime; the girls who got caught were ridiculed, shamed and exiled. Pregnant teachers had to stop working, there were strict dress requirements in school and the workplace, fraternizing with anyone outside your culture, color, religion, and social status, was anathema. As she relates her little vignettes, Addie so clearly describes life then, that the reader finds he/she is there with her. The custom of eating Chinese food on Sunday or keeping a kosher home, mothers as masters of Jewish guilt and arranged marriages, were all a part of life in those days. Addie takes us through suffrage and the women’s rights movement, the war years, prohibition, the depression and the civil rights marches. She was a pioneer; she lived alone at a time when it was frowned upon. She was independent when independence was a fault in a woman. She was smart when women were supposed to be docile and unschooled. Addie was the forerunner of the modern woman. She was willing to step out there and take some risks.
The culture of the immigrant Jews, right down to their customs, prejudices, complaints, joys, sacrifices and ultimately, their appreciation for the opportunity afforded them in America, is presented clearly with Addie’s confession. The book will be very evocative for those of us who can identify with Addie’s past as she describes her escapades and the things that brought her both happiness and sorrow. The moral standards of the day were so different, the parental behavior and acceptable child’s behavior were polar opposites of the customs today. Permissiveness was a non-issue, although there will always be children who push the envelope and blaze the trail, regardless of the times.
Addie’s background was similar to my mother-in-law’s, right down to the horse and wagon, right down to the spiritual beliefs. My own mother often had the same backward notions as Addie’s mother, although my mother and my mother-in-law were younger and represented the next generation. Times changed slowly. Jewish women of the time may have seemed hard in their behavior toward their daughters, but actually, most were trying to protect them from a society that gave them few rights. They were the homemakers. Defiance was usually not a welcome option. Women were not educated; they were merely supposed to be compliant; they were, after all, the weaker sex at that time. The men were the earners. Religiously, they were ruled by their dogma and the male had the final say in all matters.
In addition to the culture, the history and development of the Jewish communities around Boston in places like Roxbury and Brookline, she touches on the history of some of Boston’s famous institutions like the launch of the swan boats in the public garden. Even the Red Sox were revered in the book. She took part in the development of social services for those less privileged. She witnessed the movement for equality among races and religions, children, women and men. She remembered the orphan trains in Minnesota, the flu epidemics and the loss of lives from war and disease from which there was no relief. Medicine had not advanced far enough to help those afflicted. She analyzed and exposed the development of the liberal policies in government that many Jewish people still support.
Addie lived through almost a century of massive change by the time the book ends, with technological advances like computers, antibiotics and jet planes, inventions that she could never have dreamed of as a young girl. Essentially, Addie was a self-made woman who remade herself whenever the opportunity or necessity presented itself, eventually obtaining an education and a career in many places. She was hard-working and ethical and succeeded because of her sense of responsibility and integrity. She took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves to her. She had a fantastic spirit, was a good friend, always offered a helping hand, and always looked at the bright side of things, moving forward, embracing life, even at the end, at 85, vowing to continue on. The reader would probably like to know someone like Addie, I know I would.
I don't think Diamant meant for Addie to be extraordinary. I think she meant to show what the struggles were of normal people in a difficult time. I grew to love Addie, to cheer her on as she found her way through life. It may be a touch naive, but I found her to be the hero of her own story and I was glad I got a chance to know her.
The book is ostensibly an 85 year old woman's life story told to her
This seemed to me to be a somewhat more interesting romance novel but still a romance novel at heart. The writing was superficial and I never got caught up in Addie's life. Maybe that's just me. My book club will be discussing it at the end of November. It will be interesting to see what others think.