Title: The Boston Girl
Author: Anita Diamant
No. of Pages: 336
Genre: Historical Fiction
Origins: Scribner Publishing
Release Date: 9 December 2014
Bottom Line: Enjoyable but forgettable
“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.”
Thoughts: One of the things Ms. Diamant does so well is create realistic, vibrant, and sympathetic characters. Addie Baum is no different. In Addie, readers get a true sense of the growing divide between the immigrant generation and the first generation born in the United States – the battle between old-world traditions versus new world possibilities. She must also battle her growing feminist tendencies against the old-school misogyny prevalent during her coming-of-age years. It is a story often told, but Addie’s vitality adds an air of intimacy to it, putting readers into her shoes and experiencing her joys, sorrows, successes, and failures.
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.