Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford
A Girl Should Be
By Ruth Latta
Oct 2021, paperback, 480 pages, ISBN: 9781772162691
Author Ruth Latta has a passion for the 1920s and 1930s era. She’s particularly interested in the ever-changing role and rights of women in society, which is particularly poignant during this era. Her recent book, A Girl Should Be, follows young Annie Taylor through her teenage, coming-of-age years, as she manoeuvres through loves found and lost, friendships, and finding her place in a world that only expects women to marry and have children.
Annie, the younger sister of Charlotte, whom we read about in Ruth’s earlier book, Votes, Love and War (Baico: 2019), is more a flapper, one who has passions to exist in both worlds: one with marriage, love and children and the other with a fulfilling career. Although Annie’s biggest passion is women’s fashion and designing clothes, the Depression Era isn’t the most supportive time to entrepreneur one’s talents. She ends up in a small, isolated, rural town in northwestern Ontario, teaching in a small one-roomed classroom. All while one love has married another because he managed to get her in the family way and another love has gone into the ministry.
The Depression, followed by the rise of Naziism and Communism overseas, led into the Second World War and more separations and hardships ensued. But Ruth has created a strong character in Annie, one who can stand the test of time and come out ahead and above the trials and tribulations she endured.
The plot revolves around the growing conflicts of the era: the Depression, political unrest, wars and, most significantly, the rights and position of women in society. Ruth has woven an engaging story that will both entertain and educate readers on this very tumultuous time in history. The descriptive narrative sets the stage, allowing the reader to step into the story and feel a part of it. Dialogue is well constructed, paying particular attention to the topics of discussion and the vocabulary relevant to this era. The protagonist, Annie, is a fun-loving young woman with a passion to succeed, to make something of herself, and to follow her dreams.
As men and women struggled to come to terms with the need to find more equity between the sexes, Ruth struggles with her own sense of purpose and need to be who she wants to be while, at the same time, accepting her place and role in society as a woman. While her older sister stood up with the suffragettes fighting for women’s rights, Annie set her own course, seeking success and, hopefully, a permanent romantic attachment.
I found the title interesting: A Girl Should Be. Apparently, Ruth adapted it from a quote from the Coco Chanel which reads: “A girl should be anything she wants to be.” It’s very apropos for a story about the changing roles of women in a difficult and, oft-time, unfair society. Annie desperately wants to be a successful fashion designer, but reality and the need to support herself, leads her initially on a slightly different path, one which she inevitably excels.
The author’s mother and aunts were teachers in rural Ontario schools during the Depression and some of their stories influenced her understanding and appreciation for female teachers living in this era.
I enjoy Ruth’s books and learning about women’s history in the early part of the twentieth century. The author demonstrates a sound knowledge of history, the ongoing fight for women’s rights and the compelling need to tell a good story. She does it all with a passion for the life and times and the women who made her-story as important and compelling as his-story.
About the reviewer: Emily-Jane Hills Orford is the award-winning author of Queen Mary’s Daughter (Clean Reads: 2018), and King Henry’s Choice (Clean Reads: 2019).