Thursday, July 12, 2018

Review: The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall

Title: The Subway Girls
Author: Susie Orman Schnall
Published: July 2018, St. Martin's Griffin
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Source: Publisher

In 1949, dutiful and ambitious Charlotte's dream of a career in advertising is shattered when her father demands she help out with the family business. Meanwhile, Charlotte is swept into the glamorous world of the Miss Subways beauty contest, which promises irresistible opportunities with its Park Avenue luster and local fame status. But when her new friend—the intriguing and gorgeous fellow-participant Rose—does something unforgivable, Charlotte must make a heart-wrenching decision that will change the lives of those around her forever.

Nearly 70 years later, outspoken advertising executive Olivia is pitching the NYC subways account in a last ditch effort to save her job at an advertising agency. When the charismatic boss she’s secretly in love with pits her against her misogynistic nemesis, Olivia’s urgent search for the winning strategy leads her to the historic Miss Subways campaign. As the pitch date closes in on her, Olivia finds herself dealing with a broken heart, an unlikely new love interest, and an unexpected personal connection to Miss Subways that could save her job—and her future.

The Subway Girls is the charming story of two strong women, a generation apart, who find themselves up against the same eternal struggle to find an impossible balance between love, happiness, and ambition.

My thoughts: I adore reading books set in NYC and this one might just be one of my favorites. I had never heard anything about the Miss Subways, an advertising campaign that ran in the subways from 1941 - 1976. This was such a fascinating, enjoyable read that I devoured in one afternoon.

I was completely captivated by this story right from the start. It's told in alternating chapters via dual narrative, switching from 1949 to 2018 and I was equally invested in both timelines. I loved that both main characters - Charlotte from 1949 and Olivia in 2018 - were incredibly strong females for their times, and were not afraid to go after what they believed in and what they wanted.

I loved the history that is infused into this story - this is why I love reading historical fiction. You learn so much about a topic, yet in such a fascinating and compelling way. And believe me when I say, as soon as I finished reading this book, I was on Google looking up more about the Miss Subways program, more to see if any of my Great-Aunts had possibly been a Miss Subways and I just didn't know it! Unfortunately not, but still, it was quite fascinating to see some of the old posters and you can be sure the NY Transit Museum in Brooklyn in now on my list of places to visit next time I head into NYC. 

I loved the way Susie intertwined the two stories. Of course, I knew that at some point these two time lines would eventually merge, but I just wasn't sure how. I think the way Susie did it felt natural, never once contrived or heavy-handed. It had a good, natural flow, and seemed to all fit. 

The characters in this book, Charlotte and Olivia, and all the others we meet just jump off the pages. They are all so well-developed and full of life. While not all of the them are based on real-life characters, I think Susie did a great job of bringing the idea of how the Miss Subways campaign was handled back in the day, as well as imparting the idea that some things certainly haven't changed for women, sad as that might seem. 

This is a well-researched, well-thought out story that will certainly hook you from the start and keep you entertained, entranced and have you learning a thing or two about a part of history of NYC along the way. It's a charming story that will leave you inspired to keep at your dreams, no matter what obstacles stand in your way. 


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