Review: 'Modern Girl'

A memorable story from exciting debut novelist

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By Stacie Gorkow, correspondent

I have read many books set during this turbulent time in our history, but nothing that has tackled the delicate subject of unexpected pregnancies in a mother and a daughter.

In “Modern Girls” by Jennifer Brown, the setting is 1935, New York City. The Krasinsky family lives in an apartment in the Lower East side of a Jewish neighborhood. Dottie is the responsible daughter who works in Midtown Manhattan crunching numbers all day.

It may sound boring, but for Dottie, numbers calm her and bring her structure. If she can just make the numbers work out then everything will fall into place. Unfortunately, the numbers aren’t falling into place when she starts calculating the weeks and realizes she is pregnant and there is no possible scenario that her longtime beau is the father.

Rose, Dottie’s mother, has five children and now that the boys are a little older, feels she is ready to devote more time to socialism. Her brother is stuck in Europe and with the news of Hitler and his attacks on the Jews, she is desperate to bring him to America. Just when Rose starts to think she can leave some of the cooking and cleaning behind, she realizes she is pregnant.

Dottie and Rose keep their secrets to themselves, hiding behind dresses that are fitting too tight and appetites that are waning due to nausea. Suddenly one of them notices their symptoms are similar and the two share their secrets with each other.

Rose puts all her efforts into saving Dottie’s relationship and reputation while dreading her own future of raising more children. The desperation of their situations and the sacrifices Rose is willing to make for Dottie offer amazing glimpses into the lifestyle of these women in the 1930s.

I found the dual pregnancies interesting with both women dreading the consequences of their actions. Rose is happily married and was finally seeing the “light at the end of the tunnel” of motherhood while Dottie had plans of marrying a loyal Jewish man and taking college courses. She had just been named Head Bookkeeper and was thankful she could contribute more to the family’s finances.

Of course, the two of them can’t keep their pregnancies hidden forever and Dottie’s world is suddenly turned upside down. There are decisions made that will affect both Dottie and Rose for a lifetime. I found the pre-World War II backdrop to be quite interesting. So much of the truth was hidden from people living in America. News from Europe that was being reported in the papers wasn’t as bad as what was truly happening to the Jewish people. Rose was frantic to get her brother to America but I wondered if it was already too late.

With chapters rotating between Dottie’s perspective and Rose’s, the story moves along quickly because you want to get back to the other character’s situation.

I found the main characters and their friends and family to be well-developed and created with care. From Dottie’s snippy and conniving co-workers to Rose’s deeply opposite boys, you could picture each one and appreciate their part of the storyline.

For a debut novel, it is particularly unique and draws you in from the first few pages.

As I found the story moving along at a fast pace and wondering how everything was going to end, I noticed I was in the final pages of the book (I read this as an eBook). I knew there was no way the lives of Dottie and Rose were going to get wrapped up in these final pages and I began to worry. If you don’t like endings that leave you guessing, then this may disappoint you. It isn’t that I wanted everything neat and tidy, but I felt let down with the ending as it was. I can understand if the author is hoping to write a sequel, but if not, I feel it was a much too abrupt ending with too many questions left unanswered.

This debut novel certainly held my attention and left a memorable impact. I just hope there is more to tell in this mother/daughter story.

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