New York City has a storied past and Bowery Girl, set in the city in 1883, focuses at times on the seedier side. Sixteen year old Mollie Flynn, a quick-fingered and quick- witted pick pocket and her friend and companion Annabelle Lee, a prostitute, do all that they can to survive. Annabelle took Mollie in when she had nowhere else to go as a youth and the pair have been inseparable ever since, turning tricks and picking pockets to pay the rent at their tenement and eat when there’s enough money to spare. When Mollie arrives to meet Annabelle when she is released from a stint in jail, she soon discovers that her friend is pregnant. This pregnancy will ultimately change the course of not only Annabelle’s life, but Mollie’s as well.
The girls spend a lot of time at Lefty Malone’s bar/club with an unruly group of men, known as the Growlers. Tommy, the father of Annabelle’s baby and the leader of the group, reacts negatively, as expected to the news of Annabelle’s pregnancy, as Mollie initially did, and as a result Annabelle feels something must be done to improve her life. Walking about town, Mollie and Annabelle come in contact with the beautiful and wealthy Miss DuPre who runs the Cherry Street Settlement House that offers classes, job training, bathing and boarding. Annabelle almost immediately buys into all that is offered and wants to begin to learn how to read, beyond Mollie teaching her, but Mollie is skeptical of Miss. DuPre, or the Do-Gooder as she likes to call her, and all that she represents. It’s not until a robbery goes horribly wrong that Mollie begins to shift her focus and begins to see the Cherry Street Settlement House and the Do-Gooder in a new light.
One of the many highlights of this historical novel is how well developed the characters and their relationships are. The strong female bond between Mollie and Annabelle reflects trust, love, survival, friendship and support. This relationship, as well as a strong female lead in Mollie, was a welcome change from many historical novels that seek to make the romantic relationship the primary focus. The role of Miss DuPre is also critical because her role as the antagonist fades away as the relationship between her and Mollie begins to strengthen. However, the tension between the two women never fully vanishes, but that adds to the dynamic of the story and adds even more to the text. The importance of the strong female role model for Mollie and Annabelle is not lost and the characterization shows that the two do not need a male figure or a lot of money, to actually strive to improve their lives. After this shift in thinking, the already bright and engaging Mollie takes on a fresh shine. Author Kim Taylor Blakemore does an excellent job of creating vivid landscapes and historical matchups that make the reader feel as if they are closely trailing a mark down a dark alley under the close eye and care of Miss Mollie Flynn and awaiting her instructions.
Bowery Girl is an interesting, inspiring and poignant historical fiction novel that will engage readers that are looking for an insightful, yet entertaining read.
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.com.
Review copy was provided by Kim Blakemore.