Tomboy: A Jane Benjamin Novel

Written by Shelley Blanton-Stroud
Review by Paula Martinac

Scrappy Jane Benjamin aims to make a name for herself as a journalist; but in 1939, in a field dominated by men, that’s easier for a young woman to dream of than achieve. While working as a cub reporter for the San Francisco Prospect on a dull local beat, Jane hatches the idea of becoming the paper’s first gossip columnist. She reasons that the lucrative gig will grant her the financial security to raise her baby sister, Elsie, in comfort. The only problem? Her boss has already hired a man for the job.

Through a fortuitous—and circuitous—chain of events, Jane nicks a train ticket to New York and from there, passage on the Queen Mary to England. She plans to wow her boss by writing a gossip column about the Wimbledon women’s tennis championship, where San Francisco’s hometown darling, Tommie O’Rourke, is playing.

Jane’s scheme falls apart when Tommie’s long-time coach, Edith Carlson, drops dead at the tournament of a heart attack, stealing the headlines. On the ship’s passage home, Jane shrewdly befriends grieving Tommie and learns secrets that could elevate her to star status as a gossip monger. But when she also discovers that Coach didn’t die of natural causes, Jane faces a hard decision—will she use Tommie’s secrets against her, or pursue the bigger story, which may affect national security as war approaches?

Jane is a daring, likeable protagonist, with flaws galore as she pursues her ambition, and the luxurious Queen Mary setting sparkles. Mystery fans be forewarned, though: Tomboy is more character-driven adventure than whodunnit, and the shipboard intrigues add up to a somewhat lackluster reveal.