Perhaps the only thing better than a good, empowering piece of feminist literature is a good, empowering piece of feminist literature that is also library positive.
This novel is narrated by 85-year old Addie Baum who is relating the story of her early life in a Boston tenement during the early part of the twentieth century to her college-aged granddaughter, Ava. She tells stories of women who revel in each other's triumphs, and lend a hand in times of crisis. They know there is more to life for them than only being a wife and mother, even as they recognize that these are important and fulfilling parts of their identifies as well as their careers as lawyers, teachers, librarians, newspaper reporters, and social workers.
As a teenager Addie discovered the joy of learning, and went to the library everyday after school. In high school she joined a reading club, and it was there, she tells her granddaughter, that she "started to be [her] own person". Addie has librarian Miss Edith Chevalier as a mentor who recognizes Addie's potential. She encourages her to explore and suggests that she spend a week at Rockport Lodge where she can learn about art and literature with some of the other girls from the book club. When Miss Chevalier learns that Addie cannot afford even the modest amount of money needed to go, she provides her with a job as her assistant. Addie reads the newspaper daily, and truly loves selecting her own reading material.
Addie also tells of how her father used the synagogue library to study with other other Jewish scholars, and to "teach boys to get ready for their bar mitzvahs". And finally she tells of how her husband, Aaron (Ava's grandfather), loved taking his daughters to the library when they were young
As soon as our girls could sit up, he was wheeling them to the library and taking out books to read them bedtime stories...Aaron was heartbroken when Auntie Sylvia and your mom were old enough to read on their own and "fired" him.
The library is truly seen as "the people's university" in this work - a place where one can go to learn, grow, and take pride.