The Boston Girl: A Novel

Scribner  2014

 

A new novel from Anita Diamant is an event, and The Boston Girl is worth the five-year wait.

When Addie Baum’s granddaughter asks the octogenarian how she became the woman she is, her answer takes the form of thisp book. In early twentieth-century Boston, teenaged Addie “finds her voice,” as she puts it, through the company of intelligent and caring friends and female role models. Born in Boston, Addie has a different mindset than her Old-World immigrant parents, seeing education and the world of work as providing opportunities her parents cannot comprehend her wanting. Addie is a "pistol," and with humor and candor she describes a life that is by turns funny and sad, as she remembers the conflicts that arose as she pursued her dream of living independently.

Of course there is romance as well. Several false starts with unsuitable men are survived with the abundance of clear-eyed common sense that keeps her from making the ruinous choices that swallowed girls like her alive in early twentieth-century America. It is her friendships with women that form the core of the book, however, from her early summers at a seaside boarding house (the real life Rockport Lodge, meticulously researched by Diamant) to the bittersweet reunion in old age with her friend Filomena, who has charted her own rocky course to a fulfilling life.

Diamant’s narrative approach of having Addie tell her story to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter has advantages and disadvantages. As the reader eavesdrops on what is presented as an intimate private conversation, Addie becomes so real that it is hard to remember she is Diamant’s invention. Still it is hard not to wish that the focus were broader, so that more could be brought into the story than Addie can, or chooses, to tell.

One of Diamant’s greatest strengths as a novelist is her ability to convey the dynamics and diversity of relationships among women, whether the backdrop is the great historical drama of The Red Tent or Day After Night, or the more intimate setting of Good Harbor. The Boston Girl honors the strength of women and the power of their friendships and shows how profoundly the early twentieth century was shaped by women like Addie Baum. This would be a good choice for book clubs and Young Adult readers as well.

Related content:

Interview

Read Laurel Corona's interview with Anita Diamant about The Boston Girl here.

Discussion Questions

Courtesy of Scribner Books 

  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.



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