When Rachel at BookSnob mentioned a book she thought I would like, I knew I would enjoy it. When she reviewed it in the warm and engaging style I have come to appreciate and look forward to, I sensed the book was more than just the aura of a 1950′s convertible and a trip down memory lane. When The Girls from Winnetka arrived in my mailbox from Rachel a few weeks ago, I knew I was in for an enjoyable ride. I was surprised, however, by how hard it was to put down.
Winnetka is an affluent North Shore suburb of Chicago. You’ve seen Winnetka in movies like “Home Alone”, “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and the television series “Sisters”. Large estates and well-appointed homes, many designed by some of the country’s most celebrated architects, Winnetka offers some of the best public and private elementary schools in the country. It is also home to New Trier High School.
I visited New Trier High School as a high school senior many moons ago. Three of us boarded a train and spent a day there to visit with the school’s newspaper staff. I was part of our high school’s newspaper staff. “The Proviso Pageant”. A Pace Maker award-winning, eight page, twice weekly newspaper, we held our own in high school journalistic excellence, but New Trier’s was the area’s gold standard, as was the building, the television studio, and the honors English class we sat in on. I will always remember the lively discussion the class was having that day on Dante’s Inferno and I always remember that mini-field trip with a sense of awe.
Marcia Chellis’ book is a memoir of sorts. The story of five girls, high school friends, who reunite for their 50th birthdays and begin the journey of putting down their stories of coming of age in the 1950′s, their expectations to go to college and then get married soon after graduation to men who take care of them forever and ever. Of course, we all know how much the world has changed from then, especially for women, and how forever and ever was not to be. It never really was. Annie, Margo, Barbie, Brooke and Laura sneak out of the house (and get caught) in the 50′s, their dads ringing the doorbell and claiming their daughters at unchaperoned parties, their moms waiting past curfew with hands on their hips as they try to sneak back in at night. They go to some of the finest colleges and universities in the country in the early ’60′s, experiment with marijuana and liquor and changing sexual mores. They marry, have children (or don’t), and wade through all the turbulence and changes of the times they have lived in. They are not so different from many women of their time and place, but, their story gives the reader time to pause and reflect on the roles and expectations of women in the last fifty years.
This is a story of moving through the decades and what it meant for each of their lives and the collective legacy of their experiences. The trials and tribulations, the joys and sorrows, the things they let go off and the things they kept. It is, in the end, the story of what women, all women, have gained in those fifty years – and, perhaps, some things we have lost. I found it interesting to see the choices some of them made when given the chance – or those who had to courage and determination to make choices in a time where it was not the norm. The girls from Winnetka are a generation older than me and maybe you. They might be the generation of your grandmothers and aunts. They were born as the world was waging a war and came into their own as a steely cold war raged. Rules were set and conformity was the prescribed route in the lives they were to live, and then the rules were tossed in the air like a game of 52 pick-up.
I smiled at some of the chapters in each of the girls lives, and I found myself suddenly tearing up at some of their experiences and sorrows. In the reading, I did not find it to be the best written book, but, I did find it insightful and an interesting take on the last fifty years of the women’s movement and, when it was done, I found myself wanting a little more, a good thing to want at the end of a book, don’t you agree?
Thank you, Rachel, for sharing The Girls from Winnetka with me and for your ever wonderfully written and insightful book reviews.
I encourage you all to visit BookSnob; see what Rachel is reading and how she is experiencing her job in New York City, far away from her home in Britain.