The Boston Girl: A Novel

The Boston Girl: A Novel

by Anita Diamant
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Overview

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night, comes an unforgettable novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439199350
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 12/09/2014
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 509,715
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Anita Diamant is the bestselling author of the novels The Boston Girl, 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 at AnitaDiamant.com.

Hometown:

Boston, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

June 27, 1951

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Education:

M.A. in English, SUNY, Binghamton, NY, 1975; B.A. in Comparative Literature, Washington Univ., St. Louis, MO, 1973.

Read an Excerpt

The Boston Girl

  • Nobody told you?

    Ava, sweetheart, if you ask me to talk about how I got to be the woman I am today, what do you think I’m going to say? I’m flattered you want to interview me. And when did I ever say no to my favorite grandchild?

    I know I say that to all of my grandchildren and I mean it every single time. That sounds ridiculous or like I’m losing my marbles, but it’s true. When you’re a grandmother you’ll understand.

    And why not? Look at the five of you: a doctor, a social worker, two teachers, and now you.

    Of course they’re going to accept you into that program. Don’t be silly. My father is probably rolling over in his grave, but I think it’s wonderful.

    Don’t tell the rest of them, but you really are my favorite and not only because you’re the youngest. Did you know you were named after me?

    It’s a good story.

    Everyone else is named in memory of someone who died, like your sister Jessica, who was named for my nephew Jake. But I was very sick when you were born and when they thought I wasn’t going to make it, they went ahead and just hoped the angel of death wouldn’t make a mistake and take you, Ava, instead of me, Addie. Your parents weren’t that superstitious, but they had to tell everyone you were named after your father’s cousin Arlene, so people wouldn’t give them a hard time.

    It’s a lot of names to remember, I know.

    Grandpa and I named your aunt Sylvia for your grandfather’s mother, who died in the flu epidemic. Your mother is Clara after my sister Celia.

    What do you mean, you didn’t know I had a sister named Celia? That’s impossible! Betty was the oldest, then Celia, and then me. Maybe you forgot.

    Nobody told you? You’re sure?

    Well, maybe it’s not such a surprise. People don’t talk so much about sad memories. And it was a long time ago.

    But you should know this. So go ahead. Turn on the tape recorder.

    My father came to Boston from what must be Russia now. He took my sisters, Betty and Celia, with him. It was 1896 or maybe 1897; I’m not sure. My mother came three or four years later and I was born here in 1900. I’ve lived in Boston my whole life, which anyone can tell the minute I open my mouth.

  • Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for The Boston Girl includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


    Introduction

    Addie Baum was born in Boston in 1900 to immigrant Jewish parents who live very modest lives. She is the youngest of three daughters and the only one not born in Eastern Europe. Her father and sister Celia work in factories; Addie’s mother opposes worldly American values; and her eldest sister, Betty, lives independently and works in a downtown department store. Growing up in the North End is challenging for Addie. She longs for a high school education. When a local library club gives her the chance to learn and spend a week at the summer inn Rockport Lodge, Addie encounters a diverse group of girls united by their ambitions to be free young women. The friendships she forges at Rockport Lodge last a lifetime and help her through many difficult periods. As Addie grows into adulthood, she discovers the cruelty of illness and the untoward intentions of young men alongside the excitement of social changes taking place in America and new professional opportunities available to women.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. Early on it is clear that Addie has a rebellious streak, joining the library group and running away to Rockport Lodge. Is Addie right to disobey her parents? Where does she get her courage?

    2. Addie’s mother refuses to see Celia’s death as anything but an accident, and Addie comments that “whenever I heard my mother’s version of what happened, I felt sick to my stomach” (page 94). Did Celia commit suicide? How might the guilt that Addie feels differ from the guilt her mother feels?

    3. When Addie tries on pants for the first time, she feels emotionally as well as physically liberated, and confesses that she would like to go to college (page 108). How does the social significance of clothing and hairstyle differ for Addie, Gussie, and Filomena in the book?

    4. Diamant fills her narrative with a number of historical events and figures, from the psychological effects of World War I and the pandemic outbreak of influenza in 1918 to child labor laws to the cultural impact of Betty Friedan. How do real-life people and events affect how we read Addie’s fictional story?

    5. Gussie is one of the most forward-thinking characters in the novel; however, despite her law degree she has trouble finding a job as an attorney because “no one would hire a lady lawyer” (page 145). What other limitations do Addie and her friends face in the work force? What limitations do women and/or minorities face today?

    6. After distancing herself from Ernie when he suffers a nervous episode brought on by combat stress, Addie sees a community of war veterans come forward to assist him (page 155). What does the remorse that Addie later feels suggest about the challenges American soldiers face as they reintegrate into society? Do you think soldiers today face similar challenges?

    7. Addie notices that the Rockport locals seem related to one another, and the cook Mrs. Morse confides in her sister that, although she is usually suspicious of immigrant boarders, “some of them are nicer than Americans” (page 167). How does tolerance of the immigrant population vary between city and town in the novel? For whom might Mrs. Morse reserve the term “Americans”?

    8. Addie is initially drawn to Tessa Thorndike because she is a Boston Brahmin who isn’t afraid to poke fun at her own class on the women’s page of the newspaper. What strengths and weaknesses does Tessa’s character represent for educated women of the time? How does Addie’s description of Tessa bring her reliability into question?

    9. Addie’s parents frequently admonish her for being ungrateful, but Addie feels she has earned her freedom to move into a boarding house when her parents move to Roxbury, in part because she contributed to the family income (page 185). How does the Baum family move to Roxbury show the ways Betty and Addie think differently than their parents about household roles? Why does their father take such offense at Harold Levine’s offer to house the family?

    10. The last meaningful conversation between Addie and her mother turns out to be an apology her mother meant for Celia, and for a moment during her mother’s funeral Addie thinks, “She won’t be able to make me feel like there’s something wrong with me anymore” (page 276). Does Addie find any closure from her mother’s death?

    11. Filomena draws a distinction between love and marriage when she spends time catching up with Addie before her wedding, but Addie disagrees with the assertion that “you only get one great love in a lifetime” (page 289). In what ways do the different romantic experiences of each woman inform the ideas each has about love?

    12. Filomena and Addie share a deep friendship. Addie tells Ada that “sometimes friends grow apart…But sometimes, it doesn’t matter how far apart you live or how little you talk—it’s still there” (page 283). What qualities do you think friends must share in order to have that kind of connection? Discuss your relationship with a best friend.

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. Want to see what all the fuss was about? Read some of Margaret Sanger’s works, such as What Every Mother Should Know from 1911 and What Every Girl Should Know from 1916, and discuss their impact.

    2. Filomena’s pottery instructor, Miss Green, is said to work in the Arts & Crafts style of William Morris. Check out The William Morris Society online at www.morrissociety.org to explore this style in book design and furniture as well as in the decorative arts. With some inspiration in mind, try a class at a local pottery.

    3. Rockport Lodge is a real place, a three-story white clapboard farmhouse in Rockport, Massachusetts, founded in the early 1900s to provide inexpensive chaperoned holidays to girls of modest means. Diamant accessed the Rockport Lodge archives at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America to research the book. Take a look at the Schlesinger archives online, www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/schlesinger-library, for more on the American experience for women and share some of your findings.

    Customer Reviews

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    The Boston Girl: A Novel 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 79 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Really enjoyed this novel.  It read like an autobiography.  Wonderful character devepment.  However, 2 parts broke my heart.  The main character was tormented by her judgmental mother, but this same character make judgemental political statements that were out of place and unneeded.  I felt the author threw them in for publishers or editors agendas.  This book is well worth your time and money.  I do highly recommend it.  I just cannot understand the lack of knowledge or poor judgement I see in many modern books that push political beliefs, but don't reflect a true understanding of the what they oppose.  This very small part of the book sadden me, but I am glad I read this book and will continue to read more by this author.  This book deserves an A++++++++
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed the book and felt it was a welcome change from crime and other types of fiction  which are currently been published. This book about Addie Baum the first American born child o f Russian Jewish immigrants who was born in Boston in 1900 . She is telling her granddaughter in 1985 the story of her life. It a rags-to-middle-class story. A lot of the book shows how the settlement programs for immigrants provided the children of immigrants  opportunities for education and friendship. I liked the fact that the book was about poor immigrants;  Many Americans are forgetting about their poor immigrant roots.  However, I thought the ending of the book lacked a punch. The book needed some kind of climax. Furthermore, the book lacked a strong message. It missed some of the qualities of top fiction such as conflict between characters and a lead character who will mature and grow over time.  espite these shortcomings I enjoyed the book and found it a entertaining book to read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed the whole storyline. Female protagonist from poor beginnings and traumatic childhood , yet she was strong and accomplished much in her time. Page turner and worth the read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book was interesting and worth the read.  I enjoy memoirs, and this has the flavor of that genre.  The history regarding women's issues during this time period was interesting. The conflicts between characters were there,  especially between mom and Addie and mom and the other characters.  Some stronger development of  characters was missing. As a coming of age style of novel, this lacked a strong message of lesson learned, other than Addie learned she wasn't responsibile for Celia's death. Still, a good read.
    happenstancegirl More than 1 year ago
    Once I started, I couldn't put down this book. Very inspiring!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    So sad this story had to end
    Wiggles More than 1 year ago
    This book was so heartfelt yet honest. Throughout the entire 322 pages, the reader connects to the main character, Addie Baum, as well as all of her dear lifelong friends and family. This book is about a young jewish girl growing up in the early 1900's. Diamant did a tremendous job with her research, so this book is historically accurate however the history does not get in the way of the story being told by Addie Baum. The book has powerful lifelong friendships and has so many different aspects it is hard not to love. It is currently my favorite book and therefore I am recommending it to all of my friends as well as to you! The Boston Girl is incredibly well written and I can not praise Diamant enough!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Sometimes the best stories are those closest to the truth. I don't need a dramatic ending or a character whose life was written in the history books. Addie's story is wonderful in the normality and strength of it. We should all aspire to be the kind of person Addie is.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    As a former Inkeeper of the Rockport Lodge I found this book fascinating. I enjoyed the tie to the jewish community as well as the modern women.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I've read all of Diamant's fiction except ...Dogtown, and found it the least interesting. As a Boston native the history was fun to follow but may not be particularly interesting to a noon native. I found the character development hollow and the gimmick of selling this as an "interview" didn't do much to help.
    Anonymous 6 months ago
    Unsophisticated character development
    Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
    I listened to this on audio and really enjoyed Linda Lavin. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought she was actually Addie herself. It was her voice and her mannerism as she spoke about the different subjects that were occurring in her life, that I thought many times this audio was actually a memoir. It took me a while to fall into the life of Addie, as I didn’t quite understand the gist of the novel but then I realized, it was everything and anything that was occurring and nothing in particular. I just needed to follow along as Addie adjusted to life, as she tried to find her place in the world. This novel was a bit slower than what I had expected but I liked the character of Addie. Addie was driven and she had initiative. Her relationship with her mother was not good and I think that shaped Addie into who she was. This novel covers many subjects, some subjects it just touches the surface while others it harbors there and effects Addie. Addie wanted to be a Boston Girl, it was in her plans, it was something she desired and we all need to have dreams. Here is a sample of the audio. Just listen to that voice, that accent, it just makes the novel and soon, you love it. https://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/96954/the-boston-girl-by-anita-diamant/
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Well written story about struggles of a young girl nd frirndships that can sometimes span generations and lifetimes. Easy read. Good vacation read. I kept looking forwardto mypooldown time so i could get back tomy book.
    GranbyLibraryBookClub More than 1 year ago
    The Boston Girl starts with an 85-year-old Addie being interviewed by her granddaughter about growing up in Boston as an Eastern European Jewish Immigrant in 1915. The story is a coming of age tale, focusing on Addie’s friendships from her late teenage and early adult years and the events that effected and shaped the rest of her life. Our book group read "Boston Girl" and found this to be a quick and enjoyable read that some found heart wrenching but overall delightful. Addie and her friends were pioneers in modern day feminism and this lead to a discussion full of hot topics. Also, being from Massachusetts we found we were able to appreciate a look at immigration in Boston, and it proved to be a fresh take with so many stories focusing on this time in New York City. We also felt the story was a bit familiar, like talking to our own Great Grandparents and Grandparents. As a side note, the audio version is performed brilliantly, with Linda Lavin’s Boston accent and spirit really giving it an authentic feel.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Very good book. I could not put book down.
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed the book and the characters, but i cant help feeling like the story did not go deep enough.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Addy
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