Friday, June 3, 2016

Radio Girls

Title:  Radio Girls
Author:  Sarah-Jane Stratford
Publication Information:  NAL. 2016. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0451475569 / 978-0451475565

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

Opening Sentence:  "She ran, weaving in and out of the startled pedestrians, but her pursuer was still close on her heels."

Favorite Quote:  "... that's a very bad habit, playing yourself down. We all have a life story, age notwithstanding."

The first public broadcast via radio occurred in 1906. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the oldest national broadcasting company, came into being in 1922. John Reith, the son of a Scottish minister, soon assumed leadership of this fledgling organization. Hilda Matheson came to the BBC in 1926 after a career in espionage and as a political secretary to Lady Astor. The late 1920s brought to Europe the rise of Germany and its covert supporters and opponents. The late 1920s also brought the rise of women in the workforce and the suffrage movement to England. This came in the face of many who continued to believe that a woman was not as capable as a man and that a woman's place was in the home.

This is the turbulent period in history on which Radio Girls is based. The main character Maisie Musgrave is pure fiction weaved into this very real history. Born in Canada, Maisie Musgrave grows up in New York and then finds her way to England, which calls to her as home. Her difficult childhood is a recurring topic in the book, but is never fully explained. She finds herself independent and alone in the city, with her own abilities as her only means of survival. She lands in the middle of Hilda Matheson's history when she gets a job as a secretary at BBC.

Initially, mousy and unsure of herself, Maisie grows up in the job. Under Hilda's mentoring, she discovers her own abilities and begins to aspire to more. Her dreams shift from just finding a husband to making a career. Prevalent attitudes stand in her way, but Hilda's example and unorthodox ways show the possibilities. Romance enters the picture, but the focus remains on Maisie's ability to go far beyond what she could have imagined.

I enjoy this book for both the history and the fiction. I have never read about the start of broadcasting.  Although I have read many books set during the World Wars, I have not read much about the period in between. This book captures both and a lot of political and social history. The political history is the aftermath of the war, the rise of Germany, and the role of the media - radio being the newest - in affecting politics. The social history includes the impact of and the views towards differences in gender, race, social class, and sexual identity. The book beautifully weaves the history into the story such that they are one and the same.

The fictional Maisie is a well developed character that I find myself relating to and cheering for. Her story is one of self-discovery and growth. Through the book, she discovers the woman she is meant to be. A woman not defined by the cruelty of the childhood. A woman not defined by a husband. A woman not defined by a prescribed role in society. Rather, a strong independent woman with a contribution to make and goals to reach.

Fascinating, turbulent history. A strong main character. A little romance. Lots of intrigue. All the makings of a good read.

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

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