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HER Reading List: By, for and about women

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The Boston Girl

by Anita Diamant

When 85-year-old Addie Baum is asked to reflect on her life, she begins her story in 1915 when, as a teenager, she decides to be her own person. Addie grew up in a Jewish community in Boston’s North End, where girls worked in sweatshops to help put food on the family table. She did not accept that fate.

Thanks to friendships with unusually independent women, she was able to avoid her mother’s plans for her future. Living on her own terms was not

always easy, but she found satisfying employment, even when national stability was threatened by wars and social upheaval. She was never far removed, though, from her neighborhood and from the family and traditions that defined a “Boston Girl” of her era. That authenticity is always engaging and reminds us this is the work of the author who brought us the ever-popular “The Red Tent.”

The Girls in the Picture

by Melanie Benjamin

The year is 1914, and a new industry is being born in Southern California where flickering images are moving from white nickelodeon walls to real screens in actual movie theaters. Against this background, two ambitious young women meet at a new film studio, and a lifelong friendship between actress Mary Pickford and writer Frances Marion begins. Their story is also the story of the motion picture industry’s journey from an exciting novelty strewn with possibilities to a ruthless giant capable of destroying its own talent.

While their lives are intertwined, each woman’s story is related individually. Melanie Benjamin traces Mary Pickford’s rise from her insecure childhood spent supporting her mother and siblings with exhausting onstage gigs, to her reign as Hollywood royalty with her husband, Douglas Fairbanks.

Frances Marion, often working with Pickford, becomes one of the best screenwriters to transition from the silent screen to “talkies.” It was a man’s

world, and as the women helped each other navigate the uneven playing field, their friendship is both celebrated and challenged.

What She Left Behind

by Ellen Marie Wiseman

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“What She Left Behind” is a tale of two young women, separated by more than six decades and united by secrets lying dormant in a state asylum. In

1995, Isabelle Stone has found stability with foster parents who are exploring the ruins of an old asylum complex. The history of the buildings makes Izzy

uncomfortable because her own mother has long been in a treatment facility after having fatally shot Izzy’s father. The author also gives us Clara

Cartwright, who in 1929 defied her parents’ attempts to control her future. Her father commits her, first to a “home for nervous invalids” and eventually to the Willard facility, where her letters to her true love await discovery. The way Clara is treated is shocking, but her endurance is unbreakable. As Izzy learns about Clara’s fortitude, it endows her with a resolution to confront her own challenges and find the happy ending that both women deserve.

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