Mod­ern Girls

  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

In Jen­nifer Brown’s debut nov­el, Mod­ern Girls, she tells the sto­ry of a moth­er and daugh­ter who both find them­selves preg­nant. As a Jew­ish immi­grant, car­ing for her large fam­i­ly on the Low­er East Side, Rose strug­gles with assim­i­lat­ing to the mod­ern times, where­as her daugh­ter, Dot­tie, is bet­ter adjust­ed. After work, Dot­tie has drinks with her friends, goes on dates, and speaks in Eng­lish as opposed to Yid­dish. After a regret­table one-night-stand, Dot­tie becomes preg­nant, which jeop­ar­dizes her book­keep­ing career as well as her future with her sta­ble boyfriend, Abe.

Brown uses a dual nar­ra­tive to illus­trate the char­ac­ters’ depths and their dif­fer­ing per­spec­tives on the world. We are able to hear their voic­es and begin to under­stand the char­ac­ters on a deep­er, more emo­tion­al lev­el. Rose embod­ies the Amer­i­can dream, in every way. She wants more for her chil­dren than she has and has sac­ri­ficed her own hap­pi­ness for that of her chil­dren. Rose often finds her­self rem­i­nisc­ing about her days of polit­i­cal activism, which she would like to return to once her chil­dren are grown. Now that she is preg­nant once more, she fears that she has lost her indi­vid­ual iden­ti­ty in moth­er­hood and will nev­er have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to regain it.

Dot­tie, a tal­ent­ed book­keep­er, is climb­ing the ranks in her career, an impres­sive feat in her osten­si­bly sex­ist firm. Her moth­er wants Dot­tie to explore her indi­vid­u­al­i­ty before start­ing a fam­i­ly and gives Dot­tie the mon­ey she has sur­rep­ti­tious­ly saved for her­self, for Dot­tie to go to busi­ness school. How­ev­er, their unwant­ed preg­nan­cies threat­en to impede the ambi­tions of both women.

Mod­ern Girls gives an accu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the clash between the chang­ing times and the per­sis­tence of gen­der inequal­i­ty in soci­ety. There were lim­it­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties and choic­es for women dur­ing the 1930s, espe­cial­ly with­in the immi­grant community.

As the exis­tence of the tra­di­tion­al Amer­i­can gen­der roles sub­sided and women were no longer expect­ed to tend the house­hold, Rose’s preg­nan­cy threat­ens to keep her tied to the famil­ial chains that she has been look­ing to ease away from. Dot­tie, too, fears that her preg­nan­cy will hin­der her promis­ing career and force her to live the tra­di­tion­al life that she had been try­ing to avoid, which begs the ques­tion: Is Dot­tie real­ly the mod­ern girl she represents?

How Rose and Dot­tie come to terms with and deal with their preg­nan­cies is admirable and touch­ing, which makes Mod­ern Girls a charm­ing and engag­ing read.

Relat­ed Content:

Sophie Siegel is a stu­dent at Emory Uni­ver­si­ty inter­est­ed in Holo­caust Stud­ies and Film. She worked with the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as a 2016 sum­mer intern.

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