Review: Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown

Title: Modern Girls

Author: Jennifer S. Brown

Publisher: Berkeley Books

Genre: historical fiction

Source: borrowed from Mom

Publication Date: May 1, 2016

Dottie Krasinsky is a modern girl. She’s a bookkeeper in Midtown Manhattan who’s just gotten a promotion, has a steady boyfriend, Abe, with whom she’s madly in love, reads all the latest fashion and home magazines, and has a group of girlfriends with whom she regularly socializes. At the same time, she’s a good Jewish daughter to her immigrant parents on the Lower East Side. However, her life is turned upside down when she finds herself pregnant after a drunken night with a charming and totally unsuitable man.

Rose Krasinsky, Dottie’s mother, has had five children and assumes that she’s done. She’s anxious to get back to her own life of social activism. As a young woman, she’d been on the front lines protesting and rabble rousing and, now, with tensions rising in Europe, she’s ready to get back to it. And then, disaster strikes: at forty-two years old, she finds herself pregnant once again.

Both mother and daughter are in impossible situations and have to navigate a changing world, making choices they never thought themselves capable of.

I am so glad I finally read this book. I kept putting it off as my TBR list grew, but I finally made time for it, and it’s really a gem. As a Jewish person removed from my heritage, I like reading about Jewish families and how they navigate the world. This book was rich with descriptions of Sabbath, food, Yiddish terms, and the Jewish immigrant experience. It also explores the differences between the families on the Lower East side and the more wealthy families in Manhattan and how they navigate being Jewish in the modern world.

Beyond the Jewish aspects, it’s just a great story. I really felt for both Dottie and Rose and loved reading their unique perspectives on life in their voices. To Dottie, at the beginning, her mother is quaint and old fashion, very traditional, and living in the past. When you read from Rose’s perspective, though, you see a woman with strong beliefs and passions who is determined to put her stamp on the world and make it a better place. Like Dottie, she views herself as a “modern woman” who is settled in the new world and navigates through with confidence.

Truth be told, I liked reading Rose more than Dottie, although I did enjoy both POVs. Dottie is so headstrong and determined to fix all her mistakes herself. While admirable, she’s also very young and doesn’t always think things through. Rose was more steady and thoughtful in her decision, although she runs into trouble as well. Maybe it’s just my age showing, but I related more to Rose even though I haven’t had five children while living in a two bedroom apartment.

This book has a vivid setting, wonderful characters, and a gripping story. It was hard to put down and kept me engaged the whole way through.

I recommend this one two levels. One, if you’re Jewish or interested in Jewish life, this is a great book to read and a picture of that life. And, two, if you like reading realistic historical books about the 1930s and see a slice of life, as fraught as it is, then you’d like this book a lot.

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