The Boston Girl: A Book Review

Hello!

Title: The Boston Girl
Author: Anita Diamant
Published: December 9th, 2014 by Scribner
Pages: 320
Genre: Adult / Historical Fiction
Source: Bought / Hardcover
Series: N/A

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. {Goodreads}

Choosing a favorite novel is the bookworm’s endless dilemma, so much so that I’ve taken to naming a different book each time I’m asked. It’s no easy task to pick a story from the hundreds that have graced my reading pile, and it’s no simpler of a job to explain why, exactly, a book is a favorite. What has proven less challenging than describing an individual novel, however, is describing my love of reading in its entirety – what it’s shown me about the world and the people within it, why I find comfort in the words and pages of a fictional story, and how I can “slip” into another life, if only for a few hours from the comfort of my chair.

The ability to explore a life so foreign to my own is precisely why I took such a quick liking to Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl. It’s rare that a reader sees a character, and the narrator, no less, grow from a girl to a grandmother in one book, and it’s rare that an author is ambitious enough to take such a plot on – and is talented enough to succeed. Diamant, a veteran author known for The Red Tent, does both with her most recent novel, tying the reader to protagonist Addie Baum’s life, love, death, celebration, and all. I don’t think I can make my point any other way than simply stating: I enjoyed it immensely.

The novel opens in 1985, where Addie’s college-aged granddaughter is interviewing her on the events of her life, going as far back as to when Addie was a young girl and her family had just immigrated to America. The novel, though fictional, reads like a memoir. Addie is the glue of the story, as she is the story. She grows into your friend as she recalls her early education, her failed relationships, and her first job; she converses with a natural curiosity and witty sense of humor; and she confides secrets that hold a tinge of nostalgia, but not an inch of regret, as a wise one should. Addie’s narration leaps off the page, due to Diamant’s sharp eye for detail, and her vibrant personality is more than enough to keep me – or any reader! – engaged.

The strong character development extends to Addie’s family, friends, and acquaintances as well. Diamant is careful as to who she weaves into the storyline, giving each character a purpose and relating them back to Addie in some way. It’s an effective way to frame the cast of characters, as it reflects the way of life in that we look to people and places through our own personal lens. I, in particular, enjoyed Addie’s oldest sister, Betty, whose stubborn and humorous attitude made me laugh in comparison to other members of the Baum family, later in the story, the distinct individuals who worked alongside Addie in the newsroom, and towards the end, Aaron, the activist with a soft heart.

In researching The Boston Girl after I had finished it in the summer, I saw several reviewers complain of the novel’s simplistic writing. It’s a valid comment – the writing couldn’t have been too dense or taxing for me to have read it in a single afternoon – but I believe a story as rich with history and experiences as Diamant has imagined doesn’t need embellishment. I suppose my enjoyment wasn’t hurt by the fact that I am both a history fan and Massachusetts resident, so I relished in the inclusion of Boston’s history and popular landmarks within the city. My personal complaint comes in with Addie’s granddaughter, who remains anonymous throughout the book. While I can see the author’s intention, allowing the focus to stay on Addie, the disconnect between the reader and the character feels odd.

In developing a story around a lively character, Diamant has crafted a story that resembles a memoir and, in many ways, is reminiscent of such classics as Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It’s a daring move as a writer, but I believe it ultimately pays off. Early in the novel, one of Addie’s teachers tells her that she is “a girl with gumption,” and it’s just one of many names Addie earns throughout the book. Forever my favorite, though, will be “The Boston Girl,” a title worthy of this terrific story.

What are you currently reading? How is your November so far?

Have a wonderful Wednesday! :)
Bella

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