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“City of Girls” by Elizabeth Gilbert: Book Review

Updated on July 25, 2020
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Rose is an enthusiastic writer and reader who publishes articles every Thursday. She enjoys all book genres, especially drama and fantasy.

What’s The Big Deal?

You may have heard of Eat, Pray, Love, the memoir that spent 199 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List thanks to the writing of American author Elizabeth Gilbert. Similarly, the most recent book of Gilbert’s, City of Girls, has thus far met quite satisfactory reviews and is a New York Times bestseller itself. In addition to this, the book is a winner of the 2020 Audie Award for fiction because of its jazzy style, sexy characters, and indisputable New York glamour.

Book Summary

Vivian Morris is a nineteen-year-old girl who is rich, beautiful, and second-to-last in grades out of every single student at Vassar college. When she inevitably flunks out, her parents don’t know what to do with her, so they decide to send her to New York. There, she will live with her estranged Aunt Peg and assist her with the old, decrepit live theater she owns, which Vivian comes to know fondly as the Lily Playhouse.

When she arrives, Vivian is aghast at the fiery glamour of the Big Apple. She’s swept up in it, in fact, so much so that this rather innocent girl becomes a late-night lock-the-door partygoer, romping along with her new showgirl and actress friends from the Lily Playhouse as they put on their first hit show: City of Girls. Vivian describes her adventures, and does so in a chatty, fun tone—even when she comes to the part in the story where a regretful sexual encounter leaves her as almost nothing more than a piece of gossip in the tabloids, she keeps up her high-spirited style.

Because of the ruckus that said sexual encounter caused, Vivian, now twenty, decides to leave New York out of guilt and shame. She comes back a few years later out of necessity—Aunt Peg needs her help putting shows on for the soldiers of the second World War—but in the time that she’s back with her parents, she still has her adventures, one of them being narrowly escaping an engagement. When she finally arrives back in New York, Vivian sews costumes for the political skits that Aunt Peg and her secretary, Olive, put on, and she’s happy to be home at last.

In the last leg of the book, Vivian talks about the aftereffects of the war and the destruction it caused, the death of her brother being an example of that. One day, Vivian meets a soldier named Frank who knew her brother—and although the pair do share a small but terribly unpleasant piece of history involving why Vivian left New York, they gradually move past it and become the best of friends. As the pair grow older and Vivian settles down, becoming a happy, independent seamstress, she recounts all the wild events of her past and allows them to flow into the much calmer events of her present, graciously allowing readers to join her in the process.

Quick Facts

Book Info
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Pages: 480
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Ratings: 4/5 Goodreads, 4.6/5 Barnes & Noble
Release date: June 4, 2019
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

To Read or Not to Read?

I recommend this book if:

  • You enjoy exciting novels which consist of pure fun, not political/moral substance (and if you’re the opposite, this book might change your mind!)
  • You’re a history nerd or interested in the early 1900’s
  • Theater, especially the old vaudeville style, is of interest to you
  • You like peculiar, interesting characters and an expert first-person narration to describe them
  • You’re an aspiring Broadway actor or actress looking to discover where the career might take you

“Never has it felt more important for me to tell stories of joy and abandon, passion and recklessness. Life is short and difficult, people. We must take our pleasures where we can find them. Let us not become so cautious that we forget to live.”

Reviews

“Gilbert’s new novel… is a pitch-perfect evocation of the era’s tawdry glamour and a coming-of-age story whose fizzy surface conceals unexpected gradations of feeling.” —New York Times Book Review

“Gilbert has long since severed her bond with shame—and thank goodness. In other hands, this novel could have had all the adventure and enjoyment, but none of the depth; instead she makes it into a glorious, multilayered, emotionally astute celebration of womanhood.” —The Guardian

Elizabeth Gilbert, the book’s author
Elizabeth Gilbert, the book’s author

The Takeaway

In my humble opinion, I think City of Girls lives up to its expectation in every way. It’s an effervescent, witty, and sexy adventure that reintroduces us to colloquial things we thought we forgot, giving readers insight and wisdom along the way. As a story of a young girl growing up and discovering the real world, it has its share of heartache, but never fails to swing back into the shameless you-only-live-once style that Vivian never quite grows out of.

My favorite thing about City of Girls was probably the characters—each one more unique and interesting than the last, you’ve got girls that sound like boys and boys that look like girls and playwrights that respond to “Good morning!” with “I fail to see your argument.” Elizabeth Gilbert spared no expense in giving even the smallest characters a trait unique to them, and that kind of patience is admirable among authors.

If you’re interested, you can buy the book here.

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