Addie was the plucky daughter of immigrants who escaped starvation and violence in Russia to settle in a tiny Boston apartment. “In 1915, there were four of us living in one room, ” she begins. “We had a stove, a table, a few chairs, and a saggy couch that Mameh and Papa slept on at night.”They eat a lot of potatoes and cabbage. Deeply suspicious of America’s loose culture, at home Addie’s parents speak only Yiddish, mostly to bicker. Her mother, in particular, is a joyless hag. She criticizes Addie for wasting her time studying and staying in school: “She’s already ruining her eyes from reading. No one wants to marry a girl with a squint.” That’s Mameh in a nutshell, which is where she stays throughout this novel, huddled and bitter, tossing off worn aphorisms and barbs about everyone else’s failures. (Does Mameh turn sweet and loving on her deathbed? Such is the suspense that electrifies “The Boston Girl.”)
Addie, of course, finds ways to escape her parents’ suffocating expectations. She joins a reading club for Jewish girls. There she meets a better class of people, who introduce her to games and books and leisure activities that would scandalize her mother: lawn tennis, archery, croquet! She has to ask what the word “hiking” means. She’s excited to see a wicker chair for the first time. One of her friends has the cutest dimples in the world.
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