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Charity Girl

3.22 of 5 stars 3.22  ·  rating details  ·  735 ratings  ·  145 reviews
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 ...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published January 8th 2008 by Mariner Books (first published January 3rd 2007)
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Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) I am certain of it. The military complex of any nation has many and varied things they hold imperative to keep secret, from the ridiculous to the…moreI am certain of it. The military complex of any nation has many and varied things they hold imperative to keep secret, from the ridiculous to the horrifying. Having grown up in sixties and seventies with several members of the military in the family, I heard about some things that are no longer secret (such as My Lai)--and if those are the ones that have been revealed, the mind boggles at what probably hasn't yet.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,395)
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Marieke
There are things that authors do that I don't like:

1. They make their protagonist into their alter ego.
2. They make their protagonist into the oppostite sex from themselves but poorly so.
3. They oversaturate the story with landmarks to show you they really know their stuff.

This novel is guilty of the last two. This author has never been a prostitute. I never have, either, but I think I might be able to write about it better.

Also the book is filled with references to anything Boston-area c. 191
...more
Bill Zink
I did not find this story to be particularly engaging, but I enjoyed learning about a chapter in America that I did not know about. I was surprised to learn that in 1918 America, the government imprisoned women who were deemed to be of low moral character and a public danger due to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. No matter that men—often the carriers of sexually transmitted diseases--were given a pass for engaging equally in casual and frequent sex.

Many, if not most of the characte
...more
Zach
This was a pretty depressing book. Dreams crushed by reality, minimal positive resolution. Maybe, too, I'm affected by the battle between conservative Christian ideals and liberal secularism played out on the pages, in an era when the conservative had the upper hand and abused it to a degree that would make the ACLU's head explode. It's scary to realize how recently America's Puritanical roots had that kind of power and sway. It's also interesting to see how this arch-conservatism backfired (not ...more
Tara
One of the things that I find disheartening about male authors take on female lead characters is that they tend to portray them either as batty loud mouthed women, that they themselves clearly would not find redeeming, or like little girls-- their own daughter maybe, who long to grow up and become real women. This was certainly an example of the latter.

I found my self vexingly connected to the character, hoping beyond hope that she would find her way through. Despite feeling frusterated by the
...more
Selena
Nov 18, 2008 Selena rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: my mom - she's a fan of soft porn novels
I just can't do it. I can't wade through the cheap attempt at pornographic descriptors that make my head dizzy! Oh my god. Perhaps the book is good but I only got through 40 pages and can't take any more. If if takes you this long to develop a plot (if there is one), perhaps I should refer you to my beginner's creative writing course professor. He'd beat the crap out of your overfluffed story. I know it's unfair to generalize but, when reading books like this, I'm reminded why I dislike fiction ...more
Mello Osborn
Fictional book about venereal disease camps during WWI. Young girls who had tragic one night stands with soldiers are marginilized and dumped in with prostitutes into these camps that treat a womens' body as vectors of disease. I wanted it to piss me off but it came off as a little too easy on this part of history.
Thart2002
I enjoyed the history that was included in this novel but the story aspect of the novel fell flat.
I didn't find myself loving any of the characters. Frieda, the main character, and a feisty young woman that runs away from her home to avoid an awanted marriage starts an independent life. But lo and behold she meets Felix; a meeting that changes her life forever. Personally I have a hard time identifying with or connecting with a woman that falls head over heels in love with a man she barely knows
...more
Marigold
Pretty good, but not great. Confession, I didn't know about this bit of history - that during World War I, girls & women who had or were suspected of having, sexually transmitted diseases, were rounded up & detained in treatment centers. This happened to thousands of women. So - maybe I would have enjoyed reading some non-fiction about this, better than I enjoyed the novel, because I did find the subject interesting. Lowenthal's writing is decent, but plot & characters both could be ...more
Terri
This book is set during an ugly period of history that we were NOT taught in school. During WW1 women were unlawfully imprisoned (mostly prostitutes) and detained because they had STDs. The idea was to protect the soldiers so they could be healthy and go fight the Germans... Blame the women not the men.

These women were detained and "treated" for the illnesses. They had no rights and could have no contact with the outside world at all.

The story is about 17 year old Frieda who has a crush on Felix
...more
Jessica Denmark
As some of you may know, I tend to read some pretty odd-content books. CHARITY GIRL was no exception. Not only was a good read and generally well-written, but it told of a relatively unknown chapter in US history of moral and medical campaigning that lead to the detainment of nearly 30,000 women at over 40 sites around the country.
Having left her home and Russian immigrant mother, Freida Mintz works Jordan Marsh shop girl and is smart and independent. She lives on her own, with her $8 a week pay
...more
Kim
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Emma
The reason it took me so long to finish this book is that I honestly don't like it. I would never ever read this book again. Then why, I hear you ask, did you rate it a 2 instead of an absolute 0? There are two reasons for this:

1. Historical context- I had no idea that something like this happened in the early 20th century and I was both shocked and intrigued. So points for the shady side of American history

2. Jo-she was basically the only character that I felt for. Everyone else in my opinion (
...more
Gail Jeidy
Here's a novel that's been in my stack for a few years, since my days earning my MFA at Lesley University. One of my teachers and readers was Michael Lowenthal, who struts his literary and character sensibilities in this finely crafted tale. (What I remember most about Michael's teaching, aside from his amiable style, was his penchant for story structure diagrams, something I've incorporated into my own teaching!) "Charity Girl" is set in a dark moment of America's history during World War I, wh ...more
Gina Dama
It has been many years since I've read this book, and yet the memory of it stays with me still - I have a love/hate relationship with it. I had the book club I ran at the time read it, and no one cared for it, though no one had such a strong reaction as I did. I should start by saying that I love the powerful historical context that serves as the background of this story; it is such an inspired choice and involves a fascinating time, revealing unexplored and terrible secrets of our nation's past ...more
Leonard
Lowenthal is the master of metaphor - clever and original. The metaphors are what I love most about Lowenthal's books. This book (as well as his others) is obviously well-researched - a real strong point, and something that makes the stories all the more interesting and multi-dimensional. Informative about life in a different era. I'm biased as I've known the author since elementary school, but I still think it is a beautiful book.
Lissa
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 ...more
Joan
This book was very depressing. Every time this girl tried to pick herself up, she got shoved down again. Unfortunately, it is historical fiction, so that's the way things happened to some women. I knew very little about how women could easily get labeled and fall into a system in the early 1900's so it was a good learning experience. On the other hand, it left me feeling down.
AntKathy
A 3+ star novel about the detainment of girls infected with STDs during WWI, who were considered a threat to the Armed Forces.

Frieda Mintz, a seventeen year old girl who works at a department store as a package wrapper, contracts STDs from a soldier that spots her during a Liberty Bond parade in Boston. Their one-time contact lands Frieda in a containment center where other girls like her as well as prostitutes, and in one instance, a married woman, are treated for their diseases and subjected
...more
Nancy
It was a great premise for a book, a young girl runs away from home, rather than be married off to an older Jewish widower. She gets a job working at a big department store in Boston at the beginning of WWII and is making money and friends and doing ok. But one night she meets a soldier, has a one night stand, and gets a venereal disease from him. The rest of the story (which I did not read) is how that was treated at the time. My objection to the book was the writing style. It seemed uninspired ...more
Christie
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 a ...more
Peter Charles
A lovely, if tragic, account of a little known misogyny in American history. Beautifully crafted, delicately considered.
George
FIVE-STAR MATERIAL, ONE-STAR PRESENTATION.

“Limp with sudden languishment, Frieda drops her pencil; her fingers hold the shape of its absence.”—page 130

The best passage of CHARITY GIRL, by Michael Lowenthal comes not within the novel, but in the ‘Author’s note’ at the end of the book; when Lowenthal sets the historical context:

“During World War I, driven by an unprecedented alliance between military efficiency experts and antiprostitution activists, the United States government detained some th
...more
Liz
What I enjoyed most about this book was learning about a part of American history you will never read about in school. During WWI, women were arrested and if found to have a venereal diseas, quarantined for an unspecified period of time in group homes that were often originally brothels. This book took place around Boston, Devens, and Fitchburg, so it was even more appealing to me since I live around those areas. The main character, Frieda, was frustrating at times, so naive and trusting of the ...more
Korey
What a glorious discovery. I bought this book a few months ago because the Kindle version was cheap and I was fascinated by the premise. I had never heard of this large scale arrest and detention of women found to have STDs during World War I. This book gave me every thing a reader could want. Vivid, well developed and interesting characters, great prose, a gripping plot, skillful immersion in period detail. It was highly entertaining, thought provoking and emotionally resonant. It was almost im ...more
Kelly
I can't decide if I really liked this book or if it was truly disturbing. I love American History. So much so that it was one of my majors in college. I know that history is often rewritten to cover up that which embarrasses or portrays in a negative light, however I cannot believe that something such as this, as recently as in my not so long deceased great-grandmothers' lifetime, I knew nothing about.

During WWI, thousands of young women (some prostitutes, some not) were rounded up and forced in
...more
Barbara
This is an historical fiction book about a government detainment effort to rid America of venereal diseases via women who they deemed to be "of loose moral character" during WWI. Essentially, the government detained 30,000 women, of which 15,000 carried venereal diseases, and incarcerated them for months at a time. They were arrested for the "crimes" of dressing provocatively or walking through neighborhoods without an escort Only 1/3 of those arrested were ever charged with prostitution, and th ...more
April
I read this book for my library's book group, otherwise I probably wouldn't have picked it up (isn't that the great thing about book groups? :D). When we discussed this book this past week, all of the women in the group agreed that Lowenthal did an excellent job of portraying what it would be like for a woman during the WWI era to be coping with a venereal disease. He "got into Frieda's head" very well, and while a bit of an odd story, it was told very well.

The reason I say it's an odd story is
...more
Kaite Stover
Frieda is just another working Jewish girl in New York City during World War I. She is a bundle wrapper at Jordan Marsh in ladies’ undergarments and very happy with her job and her life. She and her friend, Lou, visit the weekly dances with soldiers and are popular dance partners. One evening Frieda meets a handsome young doughboy and impulsively spends the evening with him. Weeks later she is visited by a stern woman who accuses Frieda of giving the soldier a venereal disease. Frieda is sent to ...more
Jeff
Not bad. The story follows a young woman in Boston in 1917-1918 as she a) makes a life for herself after fleeing a repressive home, b) has unsafe sex with a serviceman and contracts STDs and c) is picked up by the authorities when she tries to see her "beau" and is incarcerated in a quarantine center.

The good: it looks at a phenomenon that few people are aware of. As a history buff, I knew about crackdowns on brothels and prostitution near military bases during the Great War. However, I was unaw
...more
Bonnie
Charity Girl is set during World War I, and tells the story of Frieda Mintz, a young Jewish teenage girl who struggles with a cold and distant mother but has a wonderful and loving father. Unfortunately, things change within the family and Frieda is left alone to be raised by her mother who Frieda feels little connection to. Her mother is left to find a way to support them and takes in sewing jobs but this is not enough to cover their debts. She is approached by an older man who wants to marry F ...more
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Michael Lowenthal is the author of the novels Charity Girl (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), Avoidance (Graywolf Press, 2002) and The Same Embrace (Dutton, 1998). His short stories have appeared in Tin House, the Southern Review, the Kenyon Review, and Esquire.com, and have been widely anthologized, in such volumes as Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction from the Edge (HarperCollins), Bestial Noise: The Tin House F ...more
More about Michael Lowenthal...
Avoidance The Paternity Test The Same Embrace: A Novel Obsessed: A Flesh and the Word Collection of Gay Erotic Memoirs Gay Men at the Millennium

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