City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Told from the perspective of Vivian Morris looking back on her life, City of Girls is the wildly entertaining story of a young woman experiencing freedom for the first time in the 1940s New York theater scene. Gilbert immerses her readers completely in Vivian’s transformation from meek country daughter to fabulous city girl, while also thematically delving into female sexuality and highlighting the gender inequality of promiscuity.

It took me a good while to realize that this Elizabeth Gilbert is the same Liz Gilbert who made her New York Times debut with her nonfiction story Eat Pray Love. Personally, I never read her first book, but I listened to a podcast on which she was the guest and she won me over right away with her candor and her excitement about her latest release. So, into City of Girls I went!

I loved this book. It balances the frivolity of youth and the fast-paced excitement of New York City with the significantly more serious scenery of World War II and its aftermath. It spans most of a young woman’s lifetime and fluctuates realistically from terrible choices and selfish behavior to the more altruistic perspective that comes with age and experience. It thematically tackles the process of self-actualization and points a spotlight on the gender inequality of sexuality, all while entertaining and delighting with stories of celebrity, dancing until dawn, and waking up to do it again.

The narration of City of Girls has a lot to do with its success, as Vivian Morris was an absolutely wonderful character throughout her life. Narrated from her perch at age 89, she looks back on her twenties with wisdom, honesty, and self-awareness. She’s feminist as hell and living her life with such tenacity that I just want to be like her when I grow up… ;) The narration style made the entire book in my opinion, because a twenty year old experiencing true freedom for the first time is not a unique or, really, a very interesting story. But the story of a woman reflecting on both her triumphs and her failures, her near misses and her love stories during the most exciting part of her life? That’s an interesting story.

I also resonated so completely with the themes of this story. I left my hometown for a big city when I was a young adult and it was a completely transformative process for me, so I saw myself in Vivian’s choices and her journey. Spending time as an individual, learning by doing, and trying to figure yourself out is the one of the most important things any of us do in life, so I really enjoyed being with Vivian on this adventure and also hearing the tale from her older self. Older Vivian was always proud of herself, even when she was underlining a cosmic fault in her life, and it’s so valuable to have open discussions about the difference between men and women when it comes to sex. I’d love to read more books that depict women having free, consensual, safe sex and having an amazing time doing it. The way men are able to have unattached sex and the way women are able to do the same is not currently met with equal perception, but books like this are helping open the conversation and take a step closer to equality.

Overall? If you love the glamour of times past with the fast-pace of New York City and you’re open to entertainment on the main stage and strong feminist commentary on the back stage, you’ll love City of Girls!

Thank you Riverhead for providing a free review copy!

PUBLICATION DETAILS: Riverhead Books; June 4, 2019; 978-1594634734; 480 pp. Fiction -> Historical Fiction