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The Boston Girl: A Novel

The Boston Girl: A Novel

3.9 76
by Anita Diamant

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bestseller Diamant (The Red Tent) tells a gripping story of a young Jewish woman growing up in early-20th-century Boston. Addie Baum, an octogenarian grandmother in 1985, relates long-ago history to a beloved granddaughter, answering the question: “How did I get to be the woman I am today?” The answer: by living a fascinating life. First reminiscing about 1915 and the reading club she became a part of as a teenager, Addie, in a conversational tone, recounts the lifelong friendships that began at club meetings and days by the seaside at nearby Rockport. She tells movingly of the fatal effects of the flu, a relative’s suicide, the touchy subject of abortion and its aftermath, and even her own disastrous first date, which nearly ended in rape. Ahead of her time, Addie also becomes a career woman, working as a newspaper typist who stands up for her beliefs at all costs. This is a stunning look into the past with a plucky heroine readers will cheer for. (Dec.)
Good Housekeeping
“Strong female ties form this story’s core. Through these relationships…Diamant brings to life a piece of feminism’s forgotten history [and reminds us] there will always be those who try to prescribe what you should be. Good friends are those who help you find out for yourself.”
“Diamant infuses [The Boston Girl] with humor and optimism, illuminating a wrenching period of American progress through the eyes of an irresistible heroine.”
"A graphic, page-turning portrait of immigrant life in the early twentieth century...an inspirational read.”
Huffington Post
“The story of every immigrant and the difficulties of adapting to and accepting an unfamiliar culture."
Kirkus Reviews
A Jewish woman born in 1900 tells her granddaughter about growing up in the 20th century. Diamant (Day After Night, 2009, etc.) establishes an agreeable, conversational tone in the opening paragraph: "I'm flattered you want to interview me," Addie says. "And when did I ever say no to my favorite grandchild?" It's 1985, and we quickly learn that Addie is the daughter of Russian immigrants, the only one born in the New World but not the only one to disappoint her bitter, carping mother by turning out to be "a real American." Older sister Betty horrifies their parents in 1910 by moving out to become a saleswoman at Filene's, and Addie flouts their limited expectations by attending high school and joining a reading club at the local settlement house. It's there she learns about Rockport Lodge and snatches a vacation at this "inn for young ladies in a seaside town north of Boston" with the help of the settlement house's nurturing Miss Chevalier. On her first trip to the lodge in 1916, Addie forms lifetime friendships with other striving working-class girls, particularly Filomena, whose affair with a married artist demonstrates the promises and perils of the new freedoms women are claiming. Addie's narrative rambles through the decades, spotlighting somewhat generic events: the deaths of two nephews in the 1918 flu epidemic, an unfulfilling romance with a traumatized World War I veteran, an encounter with a violent rumrunner. Her increasing aspirations take her from a secretarial job to a newspaper, where she climbs from typist to columnist with the help of other uppity women. True love arrives with labor lawyer Aaron Metsky, and a quick wrap-up of the years after 1931 tells us Addie found her vocation as a social worker and teacher. Enjoyable fiction with a detailed historical backdrop, this sweet tale is paradigmatic book club fare, but we expect something more substantial from the author of The Red Tent (1997) and The Last Days of Dogtown (2005).
Boston Globe
“Ravishing. . . .whip-smart, warm, and full of feeling… deeply pleasurable. . . you can’t help wanting to linger.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Crisp, lively, clear, wry, affectionate, compulsively readable and very entertaining…The Boston Girl’s…[narrator] is supremely brave and bighearted — a marvelous role model no matter how you parse it.”
Miami Herald
The Boston Girl convincingly traces the story of a scrappy, intelligent immigrant, who does more than merely survive the 20th century; she embraces it all—tragedies, joys, and the humdrum—with unflagging passion.”
USA Today
"Addie is…a good storyteller, and her descriptions of the human devastation of World War I and the flu epidemic … have an immediacy that blows away any historical dust."
Boston Herald
“Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl introduces[a] woman of substance…[who] relates how growing up in a time of gender inequality, strict family expectations, and a widening generation gap of social values made her a successful person.”
Los Angeles Times
“A vivid, affectionate portrait of American womanhood …Diamant has built her career on taking women seriously, and Addie Baum is another strong heroine with an irrepressible voice.”
New York Journal of Books
“Engaging… interesting, informative, and a good read.”
Dallas Morning News
This compelling new novel by the author of the book club favorite The Red Tent (1997) also celebrates a woman’s story.”
Historical Novel Society
“Readers…will feel lucky that they read this richly textured all-American tale.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“An exploration of the immigrant experience, love,marriage and friendship, plus many significant world events, including World War I and II, Prohibition, the Spanish flu epidemic, civil rights and the sexual revolution. Through it all, family and friendship remain resilient.”
The Jerusalem Post
"A beautiful novel that captures yourheart."
Library Journal
Eighty-five-year-old Addie Baum reminisces about her life in Diamant's (The Red Tent; Day After Night) step back in time. Addie's been asked by her 22-year-old granddaughter, Ava, to explain how she became the woman she is. Born to Jewish immigrant parents in 1900 in Boston's heavily populated North End, Addie and her two older sisters lived in a tenement with their unhappy parents who did not acclimate to this new world. But Addie's caring and loyal sisters are there for her. In 1915 she is a young teen, interested in her activities at a library group held at a neighborhood settlement house. Recalling situations with her compassionate eye and remarkable sense of humor, Addie observes upheavals large and small: changing women's roles, movies, celebrity culture, short skirts, and the horrible flu pandemic of 1918. She explores feminism, family, and love as well. VERDICT Diamant offers impeccable descriptions of Boston life during these early years of the 20th century and creates a loving, caring lead character who grows in front of our eyes from a naïve young girl to a warm, wise elder. Readers interested in historical fiction will certainly enjoy this look at the era, with all its complications and wonders. [See Prepub Alert, 9/8/14.]—Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA

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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.

  • Meet 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.

    Brief Biography

    Boston, Massachusetts
    Date of Birth:
    June 27, 1951
    Place of Birth:
    New York, New York
    M.A. in English, SUNY, Binghamton, NY, 1975; B.A. in Comparative Literature, Washington Univ., St. Louis, MO, 1973.

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    The Boston Girl: A Novel 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 76 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.
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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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    I enjoyed the book and the characters, but i cant help feeling like the story did not go deep enough.
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