The historical fiction novel City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is the perfect cross-section of many beloved genres and topics. It’s a female coming-of-age story that reads like a memoir. The book is narrated by the main character in her 90s, Vivian Morris, as she writes a letter to an off-page character, Angela, explaining her life including triumphs and mistakes. Angela’s relationship with Viv isn’t shared until the end of the book and you’ll find yourself guessing until the connection is revealed.
The story begins after nineteen-year-old Vivians’s lackluster freshman performance at Vassar College. She has no desire to return to school and her affluent parents are at a loss with what to do with their underperforming daughter. They agree to send her off to her Aunt Peg in New York City, who runs the Lily Playhouse on the ground floor of the grand, but aging building she lives in.
But Aunt Peg doesn’t live in the building alone. Other charismatic theater employees from showgirls to Olive, the no-nonsense secretary that keeps everyone in line have their own spaces on the 3rd and 4th floors. Vivian loves fashion and is a talented seamstress, which is perfect for making clothes for the Lily dancers on and off the stage.
The main setting of the book is 1940s New York City, spanning the years before the US entered WW2, along with the war years. Vivian reflects on the events of those years, including a personal mistake that almost ruined the course of her life in a moment.
After Melissa read this book, she could see why other readers begin to search for more books like City of Girls. We put together some great suggestions, along with explanations of how we think the book recommendations will work for fans of City of Girls. Some are very similar including another connected to the New York City theater scene in the 1940s, and others on the list may surprise you!
Throughout Doris's life, she's documented the people she encounters in the same address book. Now, at 96 and living alone in Sweden, she begins looking back through the address book, especially at all those who she has crossed out one by one as they died. In her bittersweet trip down memory lane, she reflects on those who entered her life for various reasons and seasons, each making a mark on who she would become.
Doris sets out to document her life, from working as a maid in Sweden, to modeling in Paris before escaping WWII, to searching for a lost love in Manhattan. By documenting her personal and family past, she hopes to help her only living relative, a grandniece named Jenny.
Why This Reminds Us of City of Girls: Like Viv, Doris is in her 90s, looking back at her unique life and those she encountered along the way. This story spans a longer time period and is set in both western Europe and NYC, but is equally page-turning
Few names are as synonymous with chic glamour as Coco Chanel. However, all your opinions of the woman who created the classic little black dress could change after reading this historical fiction account of her entire life.
From her humble beginnings as an orphan to her determination to keep her atelier afloat during WW2, this book details the decisions that lead to Chanel's lasting name recognition. It's well-researched and largely biographical but told in novel form.
Why This Reminds Us of City of Girls: Edna comments on Coco Chanel's activities during the war instantly brought to mind the book Mademoiselle Chanel. It is set from the 1920-1960s and covers the time Edna would have known Coco, including the questionable activities she was involved in along the way.
It's 1952 in New York City. The glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women is home to a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors who lived side-by-side while trying to claw their way to the top.
But when Darby, one of the residents, befriends a Barbizon maid, she comes to know a different, much seedier side of the city.
More than 50 years later, the Barbizon has turned into condos, but the elderly Darby still lives in her rent-controlled apartment. Darby's upstairs neighbor - a journalist - can't help but seek answers about the rumors that Darby was involved in a deadly altercation with the maid all those years ago.
Why This Reminds Us of City of Girls: You'll find three different books by Fiona Davis on this list because she writes our favorite NYC-based historical fiction, and City of Girls immediately reminded us of her writing.
The Dollhouse made the list because it's about a straight-laced young woman in the 1950s coming to New York alone and living in a building with models reminiscent of the Lily's showgirls and dancers.
Playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead aim to put up a Broadway show, and they plan to use the Chelsea Hotel - a hot spot for creatives and artists - to get the ball rolling. But they soon discover that the greatest obstacle to producing a Broadway show isn't the art, but the politics.
This story spans the 1940s-60s, but it's centered around the era of McCarthyism. As the Red Scare is sweeping the country, those in the entertainment industry are in the cross-hairs, and there is pressure to point fingers.
Why This Reminds Us of City of Girls: This was the first Fiona Davis book to come to mind because it's also set in the New York theater scene and starts in the 1940s!
In 1913, Laura's husband was the superintendent of the NY Public Library. The job included an apartment for their family in the grand building. Laura seems to have it all, but after she enters journalism school at Columbia, and meets a group of women fighting for women's suffrage.
Her worldview is rocked, and she starts to question if the things she has are the things she wants.
Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie has landed her dream job as a curator at the NY Public Library, but the legacy of her grandmother, Laura, looms over her until she can no longer ignore it.
Why This Reminds Us of City of Girls: Although it's set earlier, in the 1910s, and Laura is a bit older than Viv and married with two young kids, she has her own coming of age and rebellion against the status-quo moments as she fights to have a career outside the home.
When aging movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to talk about her time in show business, she picks an unknown reporter to log her personal history, but why?
You'll slowly unwrap Evelyn's life from the 1950s to the present as she chronicles her past life and relationships. As the book covers so much of her life, it moves quickly and will keep you engaged and entertained for hours.
Why This Reminds Us of City of Girls: Like Viv, Evelyn is looking back throughout her life and unconventional choices along the way. Unlike Viv's decision never to marry so she could keep her independence, Evelyn was married seven times, which could be seen as even more scandalous than Viv's life.
Spanning from 1933 to 1939, and from the streets of Toronto to the shores of Hong Kong, this Canadian historical fiction novel tells the story of a little-known chapter of WWII history.
With the Depression crippling Toronto, 18-year-old Molly puts aside her journalism dreams to work any job she can to help her family get by. But, as the summer of 1933 stretches on, the terrible wave of hate and anti-Semitism sweeping the globe reaches Toronto in the form of "Swastika Clubs" and "No Jews Allowed" signs. Then, on a fateful night in August, tensions reached a boiling point between the local Irish and Jewish communities. The resulting riot has devastating consequences for Molly's family and that of her best friend, Hannah.
Six years later, Molly is now working as a reporter for the local paper. With the war on the horizon and many people she loves in danger, Molly is forced to confront what happened on that terrible night back in 1933.
Why This Reminds Us of City of Girls: Viv reminded me of Molly, who comes from a much different financial class, but has the same desire to live her own life, not the one predestined by her family.
Set in 1970s Baltimore, Mary Jane tells the story of two very different family lifestyles and the 14-year-old girl trying to decide who she really is. Mary Jane is a quiet, book-loving girl from a traditional, conservative family. When she is offered a job nannying for a local doctor, her mom assumes their home is equally tidy and respectable.
However, the house is a huge mess, and it's about to get crazier. The doctor has welcomed a rock star and his wife to stay at the home while he tries to get sober. Mary Jane has a lot to teach them about tidiness and schedules, and they open her eyes to a wild world outside her bubble. By the end of the summer, she has a better understanding of who she wants to be.
Why This Reminds Us of City of Girls: Although Mary Jane is younger, at 14, and lives in the 1970s versus the 1940s, she still reminded us of Vivian. They both come from very conservative families, with very defined expectations of what is proper and what their life should look like. But, they're placed into new environments that open their eyes to very different lifestyles.
Built in 1927, the Barbizon hotel was a safe landing space for modern young women from around the country moving to New York searching for independence and fame, a husband, or both. While the book, The Dollhouse, earlier on this list is a historical fiction look at the boarding house/hotel, The Barbizon is an interesting non-fiction look at the lives of the hotel's many famous residents from 1927-1981
Why This Reminds Us of City of Girls: If Aunt Peg didn't have a room for Viv in the Lily, she likely would have ended up at the Barbizon. If you were intrigued by the woman of the book following their own dreams and passions, you'll enjoy reading about the real-life woman who paved the way for future generations.
In 1922, only a few years before becoming a famous actress and an icon for her generation, a 15-year-old Louise Brooks left Wichita to make it big in New York. But, much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by Cora Carlisle, a thirty-six-year-old chaperone who is neither mother nor friend.
Cora is a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip. She has no idea what she's in for. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together in 1920s New York City will change both of their lives forever.
Why This Reminds Us of City of Girls: What could be better than another story of women arriving in New York from a smaller town and learning as much about themselves as they learn about the world around them?
Spanning the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this book follows the Whittaker family. They rise in status and wealth as poor Englishman Henry Whittaker makes his fortune and becomes one of the richest men in Philadelphia. His daughter, Alma, shares his brilliant mind and becomes a scientist. When she falls in love with an artist, their very different approaches to life are combined. New ideas challenge old assumptions.
Why This Reminds Us of City of Girls: If you loved the writing style of City of Girls, pick up beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert's 2013 return to fiction, The Signature of All Things. Like in City of Girls, you'll find the side characters in The Signature of All Things just as compelling as the main characters.