Book Review: The Subway Girls – Things Have Changed – Or Have They?

The Subway Girls

By Susie Orman Schnall

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Charlotte is clever, bright and educated. She longs to work in Marketing. Even though she is about to graduate from college, she can’t get a job at any of the firms she has applied to. It isn’t that she wants to start at the top; as a matter of fact she is willing to start in the typing pool and work her way up. This is a long shot for a young woman in 1949. To add more misery to her world, her father’s hardware store isn’t doing well, so he wants her to work for him instead of getting a job that actually pays so he can fire his last employee.

Her age is another deterrent. No one wants to hire someone as old as twenty-one. It is almost a certainty that she is just waiting to get engaged, married and immediately after resign to take care of her husband, home and however many children they have in quick succession. Charlotte wants more from life, including a career at a marketing firm.

Olivia lives in a world where women can hold almost any job that a man can. They may not get equal pay, but in 2018 women are much more likely to be taken seriously. It appears to be true, but when Olivia’s job becomes a contest between the other manager at her marketing firm and her, only one of them will still be employed when all is said and done. It doesn’t seem to matter that she has brilliant ideas; the “good old boy” network is alive and well. Unfortunately, her competition will do anything to have the best campaign for the New York Subway system. To boost their ridership, the NY Subway needs something new with a twist of retro and even though Olivia comes up with great ideas, will she be heard?

Meantime, back in 1949, Charlotte has personal and professional issues. She wins a contest to be a Subway Girl that she entered on a whim. They are New York gals that are smart and pretty. Charlotte cleverly thinks if she can mention her father’s store during the campaign it will be on all of the subway cars, therefore free marketing so she won’t have to work in the family business and can further pursue her dream.

Olivia reads about the Subway Girls and feels it is a great idea that would stand up today. It will be retro with a new spin, landing right where the client wants it to be. After doing her research, she even locates a few of the gals who posed for the Subway Girl posters fifty years ago.

Susie Orman Schnall does a marvelous job melding 1949 with 2018. So much is different, and yet, so much is the same. She cleverly alternates chapters between Charlotte and Olivia, taking the reader seamlessly from one story to the other until they blend beautifully in the last few chapters. The struggles each girl experiences in her personal and professional life are universal through time.

The Subway Girls is a fast paced, interesting novel. The characters are well developed and the plot line is interesting and complex. Often times women’s fiction has too much romance and whining involved for me, which is definitely not the case with this fantastic book. There was a subplot of romance, but not to the extent of overtaking the story. This novel is just the right amount of everything. I loved it.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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