Friday, March 11, 2016

Modern Girls

Title:  Modern Girls
Author:  Jennifer S. Brown
Publication Information:  NAL. 2016. 384 pages.
ISBN:  045147712X / 978-0451477125

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "My lower back ached as I sat, shoulders rounded, hunched over like a number 9, on the wooden stool at my desk at Dover Insurance."

Favorite Quote:  "It was possible, I found, to both mourn a loss and yet be grateful it happened."

Two women. Two unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. Two months - August and September 1935. Two agonizing decisions.

Rose and Dottie are mother and daughter. At age 42, Rose is happily married. She has birthed and raised her children; she has unfortunately had to bury some of her children. She has been the dutiful daughter, wife, and mother. At this point, she is ready for the next chapter in her life and has no wish to start over with a new baby. She thinks her days of motherhood are over and is completely surprised when she finds herself pregnant again.

Dottie is only nineteen. She has just been promoted to head bookkeeper at her job. She is in a stable relationship which she hopes will soon lead to marriage. She is a dutiful daughter and a "good girl." Her mother dreams of college and a career for her. Her life is just beginning. One argument and one careless night lead to an unexpected, unplanned, and unwanted pregnancy.

Both women are at a crossroads. What choice will they make?

As the story alternates between their two perspectives, I respond more to Rose's story. She exudes a quiet strength and fortitude that perhaps comes only with age and experience. Her worry is for herself and for Dottie, who, no matter what, is her baby girl. Dottie's thoughts and actions, particularly towards her mother and towards her fiancé Abe, demonstrate a self-centeredness. Perhaps, that stems from her youth. Perhaps, that is her character. Perhaps, that stems from the fact that those appear to her to be the only available choices.

This book is set into the cultural context of Depression Era New York City. This aspect of the book is implicitly critical for in that time and place, choices for women, even the "modern" girls, are limited. Marriage is the only road to respectability. Any impediments must be quietly, secretly dealt with and can only be dealt with in the back alleys and basements. A girl's life is staked on her reputation and her virtue.

This book is also set into the Jewish culture of the Lower East side. This context is highlighted throughout the book. Yet, for me, this cultural construct is not central to the book. This book could just as easily be set in an entirely different culture for the idea of the "good girls" is a universal one, occurring across cultural heritages and religious beliefs. The book does not really get into the moral/ethical decision Rose and Dottie must make; it focuses instead on the pragmatic decision. What is their best choice for moving forward with life? What is the choice they can live with?

Beyond the cultural commentary, this book covers only a short period of time and focuses solely on the immediate decision Rose and Dottie must make. As such, the book feels like a prelude to a bigger story. The ending feels like the beginning of something new. As such, the story is not completely satisfying because it feels incomplete. It feels as if a sequel or a series is planned. Wonder if there is?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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