“Modern Girls” is a well-researched and thought-provoking debut novel by Jennifer S. Brown. It is a portrayal of three women who attempt to balance traditional Old World values with “modern” American views. With the rich historical backdrop of pre-WWII, Brown delves into a number of different issues. The mystery involves how two women, a mother and daughter, will handle the realization of being pregnant.
The author noted, the story “originated 12 years ago when I was pregnant with my son. I spoke with my father about our family history and found out my great, great grandmother had an abortion. That became the spark for this story as I became intrigued with someone pregnant who could do nothing about it. I decided to write a story I wanted to read. I hope people with different viewpoints will consider the characters and enjoy the plot.”
Although the story is set in New York City’s Jewish immigrant community, any immigrant group can be substituted, because the experience is universal. Dottie Krasinsky is a 19-year-old who thinks of herself as a “modern” woman. She has a job, plans on going to college, drinks a bit and eyes the latest fashions.
But after traveling to Camp Eden during one careless night she finds herself pregnant and unwed. Contrast her with Rose, her married mother who has raised five children as a housewife. She is uneasy about Hitler’s rise to power and what is occurring in Europe and will discuss her socialist views with anyone who will listen. But she is also put in a precarious situation when she finds herself pregnant again and begins wrestling with unthinkable choices. The counter balance to Rose is Molly Klein, a social climber, who spurns her culture and past in an attempt to become assimilated completely into American life.
When asked if other immigrant beliefs could be applied to this story, the author said, “I grew up in Miami where immigrant children did not want to learn Spanish. My own cousin who came from Russia refused to speak it. The common ingredient is how they wanted to become assimilated. The main decision is what traditions will they pass down to their children.”
Brown shows how each woman faced the social consequences while forced to confront their values. Rose, now in her 40s, feels her childbearing days are behind her, while Dottie struggles to take personal responsibility for her actions. Because of the social stigma a single mother was unthinkable in New York in the 1930s. All women struggle with the decision to have an abortion or have the child, to do the right thing by themselves. With these well-developed characters readers will hope for a sequel to see how the characters lives progress as World War II and the Jewish plight encompasses the world.
Because this is a generational story, Brown showed how each family considered the past traditions and current circumstances.
“Rose thought herself more modern than her own mother who simply had babies, covered her hair, and wore long sleeves.” Brown said. “She had a progressive outlook to being pregnant. On the other hand, Dottie thinks of Rose as hopelessly old fashioned. She considers herself more modern with her clothing, jobs, and publicly speaking English. Yet, she took an old fashioned solution to her pregnancy.”
She also gave a heads up about future projects, “My next book is about an immigrant whose children ended up in an orphanage asylum. After that I am playing with some ideas about continuing these characters’ stories.”
In reading “Modern Girls” people will question their own value system. Beyond that they will get a deeper understanding of Jewish culture that can be applied to any immigrant background. Those seeking insight into the day-to-day lives of women from the last century will find themselves fully involved in the agonizing struggles Rose and Dottie endure as they ponder their choice.