We Came Here to Shine

Written by Susie Orman Schnall
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

We Came Here to Shine is a delightful novel of friendship, ambition, and resilience. Vivi Holden came to Hollywood with big aspirations, and for a while, it looked as if her dream of starring in a major motion picture was about to come true. However, the director and her agent have something else in mind for her: They send her to the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City to star in the Aquacade—a spectacular synchronized water show also starring the famous swimmer, Johnny Weissmuller. Vivi has no experience as a swimmer, and she is reluctant to return to New York, lest her past catch up with her. But her ambition and inability to speak up for what she wants silences her, so she takes the opportunity rather than risk her career.

Along the way, she meets and befriends Maxine Roth, a Jewish journalism student who has ambitions of her own: to land a summer internship with the New York Times. When she winds up working for the World’s Fair’s daily newspaper instead, she has to find a way to squelch her ambition or turn this assignment into a chance to reach her goals. Together, the two women must summon the courage to reinvent themselves and decide what is truly important, even if it means defying gender expectations and risking family relationships, romance, and career opportunities.

The writing is stellar, and the World’s Fair backdrop is a pleasant change of pace. The storyline is engaging, and the author paints a realistic and heartwarming portrait of friendship between two strong women. The historical research brings this time period to life, and the inside glimpse into the World’s Fair is riveting. The reader can only hope for a sequel to follow the lives of these two unforgettable characters.