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!
PS: If you’re doing our Decades Challenge and haven’t yet read this book, it’s a great pick for April / 1940s month!
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