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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 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.
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.
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.
See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/The-Boston-Girl/Anita-Diamant/9781439199350/reading_group_guide#sthash.mMyNb1nx.dpuf