Monday, March 20, 2017

What I Read in June 2016 Part VIII. . .

What I Read in June 2016 Part VIII. . . 

The Boston GirlThe Boston Girl by Anita Diamant-- Historical Fiction

Eighty-five-year-old Addie's two-year-old granddaughter asks her "How did you get to be the woman you are today?" Addie begins her life story in 1915, when as a teenager, she discovered the Saturday Club, a literary and social society for young working class women. Addie shares how she learned to defy her parents' old world Russian Jewish rules and learned to be her own person. She talks about life, loss and love through to her recent past.

My mom recommended this book as a nice, light read. I think we differ on the meaning of light. This book contained a lot of drama for a short book. There is an abusive mother who thinks nothing about calling her eldest daughter a whore and smacking around her youngest. Then there's a sister with a serious mental issue that leads her to an eating disorder and self-harm. There's the Spanish flu pandemic, PTSD, abortion, adultery, child labor issues and other drama. I was expecting more along the lines of women's fiction (chick lit so-called) but this was a serious look at what it was like to grow up in a working class immigrant neighborhood (the North End of Boston) in the first half of the 20th century.

Addie is somewhat of an admirable character. It's her story though she tries to be fair. I liked how she was able to define what she wanted out of line and go out there and get it. She had support from a great group of friends and mentors. I liked the Saturday Club and the "mixed nuts." It was nice to see different young women from different ethnic backgrounds supporting each other and remaining lifelong friends. However, I also felt Addie struggled to come to terms with her parents' expectations and I did not like how she let her mother abuse her. Her Jewish guilt annoyed me greatly and her need for her mother's acceptance and approval was tough to swallow.

My favorite character was Betty, Addie's eldest sister. Betty embraces all America has to offer. She gets herself a good job and moves out so she doesn't have to take her mother's drama or her father's lack of support. She remains a modern American woman through everything. She supports Addie 100%, is a caring wife and mother. I loved her no-nonsense, larger than life personality. Addie's middle sister, Celia, is very fragile. She has some serious issues that no one 100 years ago would have even thought of, let alone done anything about. I felt bad for her but as a character in a story, she was entirely unappealing. My favorite friend is Gussie. Like Betty, she knows what she wants and works towards a goal. When it seems like her goal is intangible, she finds a way to make it happen despite the odds against women at that time. She encourages Addie and helps Addie figure out who she is and what she wants to be.

Besides all the heavy drama, I really didn't like the way this book was told. The memoir format doesn't work for me. It's all telling with very little showing. I never really felt like I was there with Addie in the tenements in the North End at that time. She also interjected into her story to give advice to her granddaughter and point out how things have changed or not changed over the last 80 years or so. The best sections were when she worked for the newspaper. I liked learning about the way the social pages were run and the stories Addie covered. It was interesting to discover how magazines like Ladies' Home Journal and Good Housekeeping got started. The very best part of the book is the sweet romance between Addie and her future husband. I don't normally believe in love at first site, but he was so sweet and kind, not to mention passionate about his career, that it's obvious he would make an excellent husband. He is unlike the other putzes Addie dated (though one had a legitimate reason for being a poor boyfriend). I will not tell you his name and spoil the book but you'll know when you meet him. The love story is sweet and fairly simple, but I wanted more showing! Don't just recap but paint a picture.

Other content issues that might bother people:
Two women in a "Boston Marriage" (living together and supporting each other)
Margaret Sanger pamphlets on birth control

I would recommend books by Mary Antin and even the somewhat fictional Bread Givers over this fictional memoir.

Mountain Light (Golden Mountain Chronicles, #2)Mountain Light by Laurence Yep--Young Adult Historical Fiction

Squeaky Lau, the clown of his village, has come to Canton to help fight the Manchus. He has little experience and is nearly killed - by a girl! Cassia and her father, known as The Gallant, fiercely believe in freeing their home from the Manchus. Cassia doesn't know if she can trust Squeaky, an enemy from another village, especially after that his people did 6 years ago. Squeaky looks up to Cassia's father and tries to tease Cassia into being a little less belligerent. United by a common goal, to make their villagers understand that they all share one common enemy- the Manchus - and should not be fighting each other, Squeaky and Cassia become close. Times are hard and soon Strangers are suspect and mistreated. When tragedy strikes, it's up to Squeaky to become a fighter like Cassia and find his way in the world. He looks to her younger brother, Firefox, successful on the Golden Mountain (California), for inspiration, but old prejudices die hard. Can he find a home where he and Cassia can be free?

This sequel to The Serpent's Children takes place 6 years after Cassia first meets Squeaky. The story is told from Squeaky's point-of-view and is very much his coming of age story.
The only real thing I was confused about was the Strangers. I didn't remember if it ever said who they were but the book says the Strangers kept their own dialect and customs rather than assimilate, therefore, the villagers who had been there for many more centuries, saw the Strangers as people to be despised and feared.There are some really valuable lessons to be learned from this story. Sadly, much of the dialogue could be ripped from today's news. I thought the book was a little too violent for the reading level. I wasn't surprised at the deaths in the book because I had read summaries of the other books in the series. Don't do that if you don't want to be spoiled. Overall, this book has rather a sad tone.

I really liked Cassia in TSC and I liked her reappearance here. Squeaky is a good foil for her. He's young, innocent and desperately wants to be a man but doesn't know how. He feels cowardly and unprepared for battle but when the time comes, he is able to make a choice that will change his destiny. The relationship between Squeaky and Cassia is cute. I like how he teases her to get her to lighten up and how she works hard to prepare Squeaky for his future. Cassia is brave and noble but the villagers don't see her that way. Squeaky is also an outcast and that makes them very similar in some ways. I liked him a lot too and he had some excellent advice of his own to share. I liked how he used his unique talents in a way that mattered.

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