Author: Renee Rosen
Source: from publisher for review
Summary: This was fun, with a great setting and enjoyable character arc.
This book had a premise I couldn’t say no to, showing the start of Helen Gurley Brown’s career at Cosmo through the eyes of her fictional assistant. I love learning about what life was like for women during different time periods. I’m a sucker for books about women whose passion for their work is a large part of their story. And I’m definitely on board with the device of using a fictional character to tell a true story with room to be flexible for the sake of a good plot. I thought the author took full advantage of that here to create a perfectly paced plot. Something exciting was always happening!
The fictional star of this book is Alice Weiss, a Midwestern girl who finds her first job as Brown’s assistant. Brown faces a number of challenges, including hostile supervisors and a spy in the office. Alice finds plenty of room to grow, helping Brown navigate this difficult beginning. She also has to make some big decisions herself. In fact, this feels like a coming-of-age story to me. Alice grows a lot as she figures out what she wants in a relationship; what feminism means to her; and what she’s willing to do in pursuit of her dream job. I thought her personal growth was portrayed convincingly. There were clear connections between her life experiences and how she changed over time. Her character arc was extremely enjoyable.
The setting, both time and place, were also portrayed convincingly. The author made me feel like I was in 1960s NY. Having read a fantastic author’s note and interview at the back of the book, I’m not surprised. Her research seems thorough, including talking to a woman who knew Brown and visiting many of the locations she wrote about in NY. She also seems to have made changes to historical events thoughtfully to improve the plot and given her transparency, I approve completely.
The only thing keeping me from giving this five stars is that it is a bit light. The only topic I see generating significant discussion in my book club, for example, is a comparison of Brown’s view of feminism with that of Betty Friedan, whose talk Alice attends. I did feel like Alice had to face significant challenges. It didn’t feel as though everything fell into place too easily. Nevertheless, there was also a lack of emotional depth here for me. We’re given the story from Alice’s perspective and I empathized with her, but I didn’t experience a lot of emotion myself. I wish I could tell you what was lacking for me in more detail, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I’d still recommend it enthusiastically to anyone who finds the topic interesting 🙂