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Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal
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Charity Girl (2008)

by Michael Lowenthal

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2341949,373 (3.48)1 / 14

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This horrifying look at a forgotten (purposely, I suspect) part of American history is also a surprising showcase for the author's ability to capture the little things that make up joy, and even pass on that feeling to the reader. Unfortunately, the story falls apart right at the climax, leaving its heroine in a pickle and then skipping ahead without ever explaining how on earth she got out of it. This omission cheats the reader out of both the emotions that this scene should have inspired and an understanding of the next steps in the process that these women went through. If the ending had been better handled this would have been a 5 star book but as it is I feel that 4 is a bit generous. 3 1/2 stars ( )
  aurelas | Dec 23, 2016 |
Ah - Boston, STD and WWI. The perfect trifecta. Not happy about the predatory lesbian, though.

Why can't people lose that stereotype? ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Frieda Mintz is a seventeen year old Jewish girl who works as a bundle wrapper in a department store after running away from her controlling mother, who wanted to marry her off to a much older man. Frieda is barely scraping by, but she's enjoying her life, which becomes even more exciting when she meets Felix Morse, a private in the Army, during a parade. They have one date, in which Felix takes her to a baseball game and, later, changes Frieda's life forever by giving her a sexually transmitted disease. Frieda's life quickly takes a turn for the worse - she loses her job and is unable to find a new one without a letter of reference from her former employer, she goes through the meager amount of money she's managed to save, she loses all of her "friends" (save one) at the department store, is nearly raped, and is eventually picked up and sent to a home for women who are infected with STDs.

I have a lot of thoughts about this book, so my review might seem a little disjointed.

First, I've had this book for something like six or seven years. I bought it shortly after its release (I believe in 2007?) and tried to read it then, but I never got past the first few pages. The author's writing style is a little different, and I just couldn't get into the story on my first try - but on the second try, I was instantly hooked.

I liked the character of Frieda, although it was a little hard to sympathize with the "love" that she felt for Felix instantly. Still, I guess I can give her a little leeway because she was rather sheltered growing up, and it was a different era then (filled with the knowledge that soldiers were being shipped overseas and might never return, which might up the quickening of "love"). And she did grow, from being incredibly naive and trusting to someone who sees the world more as it is.

I really liked the character of Jo, one of the girls that Frieda meets in the home. Abused and forced to prostitute herself by her husband, Jo is eventually infected by someone and sent to the home. True to the time, once it is discovered that Jo is pregnant and her husband is tracked down, they insist that she return to her husband, even though Jo obviously doesn't want to go with him. Jo eventually attempts to give herself an abortion, which results in her death. She's a sad reminder of what can happen when women aren't given equal rights to men and abortion access is nonexistent.

And then there's Anna. Sigh. I have conflicted thoughts about Anna. She's one of the overseers of the girls in the home, and at first she seems rather sympathetic toward them. Ultimately, it is Anna who evaluates the girls and gives them the opportunity to either regain their lives or be classified as degenerates. She forms a friendship with Frieda, and that is when the trouble starts. Although it's never confirmed in so many words, Frieda eventually suspects that Anna is a lesbian and that Anna is attracted to her. Although Frieda doesn't share Anna's regard, she does view Anna as a friend, and Frieda decides that she wants to use Anna to get out and get her education. Eventually Frieda pushes Anna too far, and Anna lashes back, which makes her take on the role more as a predatory lesbian than anything, and I hate that. I can understand that Anna had hoped that she could have more than friendship with Frieda, but once the "relationship" between them is irrevocably severed, Anna pretty much gives up on all of the girls. Coincidentally, or not, at the same time, the girls learn that their stay in the "home" is just until they are cured from the STDs - they still face criminal charges, with the threat of institutionalization for years - or life - for their "crimes." Frieda wonders if this comes about because of her, but that's not confirmed, either. Ugggggh. I liked Anna until this point, and then I just felt betrayed that the character would become like that.

As for the historical context and situations, I found it fascinating. I don't read a lot of fiction set in the First World War era, but this book was interesting to me. The author obviously knows his era and throws in a lot of language, names, brands, and etc that really immersed me into the story and the time period. There is a lot of racism displayed against the Jewish characters (Frieda, Felix, one of the doctors at the home, and all of their families are Jewish), as well as a ton of sexism (not surprising - women don't even have the vote yet at this time). Unfortunately also not surprising, it is the women who are prosecuted, even though in some cases (like Frieda's), they just got involved with the wrong man, who then infected them. Most of the girls in the home just like a good time; only a few seem to be involved with prostitution, and even then, it's the only way that they can really survive at the time. They are being held in the home without charges, without a trial, and without representation, only because they have been found to have a sexually transmitted disease. In the end, it is revealed that they still all face criminal charges, and that they will likely be put into an institution for years. Some of them, those who are viewed as likely to become prostitutes, may be committed for life. Wow. Meanwhile, the soldiers that infected them never face any charges - they are simply taken to the doctor, treated, and allowed to continue their normal lives. That's something that doesn't make it into the history books much, and I'm glad to have read this book and seen what could happen to girls in this situation.

The ending felt rushed to me, and although Frieda learned some very important things, she was still quite naive. She ended up marrying someone she barely knew because she thought he might be the only person to ever ask her. Umm. Okay.

Altogether, I am glad that I read this book (I'm not sure that I can say that I "enjoyed" it, because there is a lot of harshness in it). ( )
  schatzi | Nov 22, 2014 |
I really enjoyed this book until about 10 pages before the ending. I kept wondering what was going to happen and how the ending was going to go down. The ending of this book is TERRIBLE! It like the author didn't know how to end it and just wrote the last 10 pages to tie thing up. Nothing happened. Plus it was so quick and depressing.
Urgh. It was just a let down to an other wise interesting story. ( )
  goldiebear | Jun 20, 2012 |
Historical fiction about a period of time that is not talked about or written about much…During World War I, there was a movement by Christian groups to keep the soldiers healthy of body and mind. This involved getting the girls that the soldiers interacted with out of sight and mind. These groups, funded by the U.S. Government, gathered these girls (some prostitutes, some just regular girls), who had access to the soldiers or who were diagnosed with venereal diseases. They put them in homes, basically like prisons, to keep them away from the soldiers and “preying” on the innocence and good health of the soldiers. It did not matter if the soldier was your boyfriend, if you sold yourself to them, or even if you were raped, if you were caught, the government put the girls in these homes.

The heroine in this story, Frieda Mintz, is a young Jewish girl who wanted to escape her oppressive mother and take a try at life as a working girl in a department store. She and her girlfriends frequent the dance halls and struggle to make ends meet in a difficult economic time. Frieda ends up being seduced by a young GI and comes down with a disease. She loses her job in the department store once her boss learns of the visit by one of the church ladies. She is eventually caught by the authorities after she tries to find her boyfriend, who seems genuinely enamored with her. There is more to his background, as he is also Jewish and heir to a great fortune. Frieda has to endure doctor exams, heartbreak, and others who try to take advantage of her while she is being held. This was an excellent story, making a historical time very real.
( )
  BugsyBoog | Apr 22, 2011 |
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Book description
During World War I, seventeen-year-old Frieda Mintz secures a job at a Boston department store and strikes out on her own, escaping her repressive Jewish mother and marriage to a wealthy widower twice her age. Determined to find love on her own terms, she is intoxicated by her newfound freedom and the patriotic fervor of the day. That is, until a soldier reports her as his last sexual contact, sweeping her up in the government’s wartime crusade against venereal disease. Deemed a threat to the country and quarantined in a detention center, Frieda finds in the Home’s confines a group of brash, unforgettable women who help her see the way to a new kind of independence. Charity Girl is based on an ugly, little-known chapter in American history that saw fifteen thousand women across the nation incarcerated. Like When the Emperor Was Divine, Lowenthal’s novel is poignant, provocative historical fiction that will leave readers moved and astonished by the shameful facts that inspired it.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618919783, Paperback)

During World War I, seventeen-year-old Frieda Mintz secures a job at a Boston department store and strikes out on her own, escaping her repressive Jewish mother and marriage to a wealthy widower twice her age. Determined to find love on her own terms, she is intoxicated by her newfound freedom and the patriotic fervor of the day. That is, until a soldier reports her as his last sexual contact, sweeping her up in the government’s wartime crusade against venereal disease. Quarantined in a detention center, Frieda finds in the Home’s confines a group of brash, unforgettable women who help her see the way to a new kind of independence.

Charity Girl is based on a little-known chapter in American history that saw fifteen thousand women across the nation incarcerated. Like When the Emperor Was Divine, Lowenthal’s poignant, provocative novel will leave readers moved - and astonished by the shameful facts that inspired it.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:52 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

During World War I, after an impulsive night with an infected soldier, Frieda Mintz, a seventeen-year-old Jewish girl, is sent to a makeshift detention center for medical treatment with other "charity girls" in similar circumstances.

» see all 3 descriptions

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