From the time I was little, my mother would tease me saying I was Belle from Beauty and the Beast because I “always had my nose stuck in a book.” Thanks, Mom. But also–Thank you, Mom for getting me three fabulous books for Christmas, I’ve loved sharing them with you all!
The last of my Christmas books is Kitty Zeldis’ book Not Our Kind. I think, so far, it might just be my favorite.
Here’s the link to the companion vlog!
The story takes place in 1947 New York (and a little bit in Connecticut) and primarily follows the life of Eleanor Moskowitz, a young, intelligent, Jewish girl who like many 25-year-olds is still trying to figure out who she is. However, considering 1940s America, not only is she faced with prejudice from her faith, but also her gender, and most frustratingly of all, her intelligence and independence.
I say the book largely follows her, but other characters who are equally important are the Bellamy family. They are an upper middle class family who hire Eleanor to tutor their daughter Margeaux, who has to deal with the affects of contracting polio. Margeaux and Eleanor develop a fast, deep friendship, which makes it a little difficult for her parents, particularly her father Wynn. Wynn Bellamy is arguably the antagonist of the story, he doesn’t trust Eleanor, he makes life difficult for his wife Patricia, and even though he loves Margeaux, her battle with Polio changes him and his outlook on life.
However, despite how frustrating it was to read some of Wynn’s bigoted and sexist remarks and interactions with other characters, he’s oddly (almost) somewhat likable. For me, at least, I think Zeldis wrote the character–and all the characters really–in such a deep, complex way that while they may behave poorly, you can see where they’re coming from, even if you don’t agree with them at all. The characters just seem so believable, so realistic, it’s extremely easy to get caught up in their lives and make a connection with them.
I think that’s what I honestly liked most about the book. While I loved the plot and thought the various sub-plots were incredibly well done, I just loved the characters most. I saw myself in Eleanor–how she wants more from life, how she wants independence, but even how she’s a little unsure at times. I felt a kinship to Margeaux and Patricia, two sides of the same coin–poised and refined but also slightly uncouth and clearly very young. I even felt badly at times for Wynn: even though he was such a cringy character, part of me really did hope that he would get his head out of the sand and see that the world isn’t as bad as he thinks it is.
On that same token, my only frustrations with the books came from the characters, however I can’t even fault them, or Zeldis, for that. Since the characters are all so realistic, and also considering the novel’s setting of 1940s America, it made sense why they would have the inner conflicts, why they would have some of the bigoted beliefs they held. It doesn’t excuse their ignorance, but gives it a framework within which to see them–all the time, we see post-WW2 America as a kind of Golden Age, but it’s so easy to forget the uglier sides of it, and I love how Zeldis didn’t shield us readers from that. She pointed out how even after the war, Jewish people were often discriminated against (which only gives more context to today’s incidents, like Squirrel Hill), but she also highlighted just how hard it was to be a woman, and in Eleanor’s case, an independent woman during that time.
So, if you like historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. If you like a little romance, this novel has it too. Really, this story is just a really well written reflection of a such a pivotal time in our history, but it’s told in such an entertaining way, it’s easy to forget that it takes place in the past, so as long as you like a good story, I think this one will fit the bill for you.
That’s all I have for this week. I want to say a huge thank you to you all for sticking with my blogs and a thanks for checking out the vlogs too. Look out for my posts next week on 49 Buddahs by Jim Ringel–he’s a local Colorado author and this will be another one of my collaborative blogs, so I’m excited to share my thoughts!