Modern Girls

Written by Jennifer S. Brown
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

In 1935 on New York’s Lower East Side, two Jewish women, a mother and a daughter, both find themselves unexpectedly pregnant. How they cope with their situations, against the backdrop of a changing society, is the heart of this riveting novel.

Brown tells their stories in alternating voices. Dottie is a relatively carefree young woman who knows she is going to marry her steady, mild-mannered beau, Abe. But after an argument with him, Dottie runs into the arms of Willie, a smooth-talking, handsome suitor. When Dottie realizes she is pregnant, her world turns upside down; social convention prevents her from revealing her secret to even her best friends.

In the meantime, Dottie’s mother, Rose, is a Yiddish-speaking immigrant, struggling to make a better life for her family in the new world. Before she became a full-time wife and mother, Rose was a political activist. For too long, she had been silenced; she is anxious to have her voice heard again. Once both women realize that they have unwanted pregnancies, they have to make hard choices and reimagine the lives they each wanted for themselves.

Modern Girls is a story of mothers and daughters, of sacrifices and of societal consequences, in a time when the role of women in society was on the verge of moving forward. Both Rose and Dottie are imperfect but inherently relatable. With its compelling storyline, a well-researched historical setting, protagonists who are authentic and strong, and beautifully written prose, Modern Girls is, without a doubt, one of my favorite books of 2016 to date. The story drew me in from the very opening pages, and I was reluctant to let go of the characters once I finished the book. I predict it has a bright future as a book club favorite.