Bowery Girl

Written by Kim Taylor
Review by Juliet Waldron

Mollie Flynn and Annabelle Lee are bad girls, make no mistake. When the two have their first meet-up with a settlement house do-gooder, Mollie declares defiantly, “I’m a thief and she’s a whore.” Bowery Girl was inspired by How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis’ ground-breaking photographic essay of tenement life in late 19th-century New York. At that time, as many as twenty thousand children, turned out by families unable to support them, lived on the streets. One of these “street Arabs,” Annabelle, finds a slightly younger Mollie hiding in a pile of rags, and that is the start of their friendship. Since then, they’ve protected and looked out for each other. From rat pits to beer halls, along filthy streets ruled by brutal adolescent gangs, the two girls hustle a living. Annabelle, emerging from jail visibly pregnant, begins to long for the better life education might bring, and starts learning to read at a settlement house. Mollie, however, remains attracted to the thrills and fast bucks available on the street. By the book’s end, it appears that Mollie may at last be ready to walk the long, hard road to a regular job and self respect. Despite the unsavory atmosphere, the author’s skillful handling keeps the narrative firmly within the bounds of young adult fiction. In an author’s note, Ms. Taylor observes that real examples of teen friends helping each other toward womanhood while enduring poverty and degradation may be found as easily today in the slums of any megalopolis.