The Boston Girl
by Anita Diamant

Scribners, 2014. ISBN 978-1-439-19935-0.
Reviewed by Helene Benardo
Posted on 12/30/2014

Fiction: Mainstream

The Boston Girl, a marvelous book, is told by Addie Baum, now 85 years old, to her favorite granddaughter, Ava. The story (told in first person) is an attempt to answer Ava's question, "How did you get to be the woman you are today?"

Addie was born in 1900 and as we learn her history, we also see a history of the twentieth century, with an emphasis on the lives and plights of women. She was the youngest, by far, of three sisters in a dreary tenement in Boston. Her parents were Jewish immigrants and unhappy and fearful of life in America. Addie stands out as she is a reader, a seeker of truth; she's not content to leave school, work in a factory and prepare for a life of housewifery and motherhood.

Defying her parents to attend a weekly social/literary club, she meets like-minded girls and women who become life-long friends. The brave few who dare to become lawyers, for example, are role models for Addie who sees in them what she could have achieved if only she'd been allowed to complete high school.

She finally makes the break and moves into a boarding house when her parents move to a suburb. She takes a job on The Transcript, an evening newspaper, starting as a typist and eventually rising to a kind of feature writer, albeit one who must use the byline assigned to "the women's pages."

This works well for a time. Eventually however, Addie meets her future husband, an advocate for changing the child labor laws. Agreeing with his position, she writes a piece and sends it to national magazines. When the article appears with her byline in The Nation, she is fired from her newspaper job for stepping on the toes of the editors who roundly disagree with her argument.

All the while, Addie continues to take classes in the evening. Eventually, she has her high school diploma. During the Depression, after her marriage to Aaron and the birth of 2 daughters, she keeps up with classes at Simmons College. Indeed, when the girls are in high school, Addie gets her Master's Degree and eventually becomes a social worker whose major work is a book that grows out of hundreds of interviews with women.

This is a beautiful book whose characters are real and immediate. I know these people. We see in Addie a microcosm of the story of women in the twentieth century.

Anita Diamant is the bestselling author of the novels The Red Tent, Good Harbor, The Last Days of Dogtown, and Day After Night, and the collection of essays, Pitching My Tent. An award-winning journalist whose work appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine and Parenting, she is the author of six nonfiction guides to contemporary Jewish life. She lives in Massachusetts. Visit her website & her blog.

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