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Review: Bess and Frima by Alice Rosenthal


When Bess and Frima—best friends, both nineteen and from the same Jewish background in the Bronx—get summer jobs in upstate hotels near Monticello, NY, in June 1940, they have visions of romance . . . but very different expectations and needs. Frima, who seeks safety in love, finds it with the “boy next door,” who is also Bess’s brother. Meanwhile, rebellious Bess renames herself Beth and plunges into a new life with Vinny, an Italian American, former Catholic, left-wing labor leader from San Francisco. Her actions are totally unacceptable to her family—which is fine with Beth. Will their young loves have happy endings? Yes and no, for the shadow of world war is growing, and Beth and Frima must grow up fast. As their love lives entangle with war, ambitions, religion, family, and politics—all kinds of conventional expectations—they face challenges they never dreamed of in their struggles for personal and creative growth.


Beth and Frima, a novel that takes place in the 40s, featues two best friends from the Bronx. A common bond of their Jewish heritage, we follow their evolution as young women through love, friendship, loss, family and cultural challenges.

Overall, the heart of the book was the friendship and Bess and Frima. It was a refreshing contrast seeing these women as they were through the influences of their time and the challenges they faced. Bess, being such a progessive and rebellious woman to not only the societal norms but her cultural ones, was such a great character to see break free to be in her own shell. Frima, who embodied conventional and traditional expectations found her way in the confines of who she was expected to be, found her way to be the best version of herself.Despite the challenges they faced, they always were their for each other no matter what which is so lovely to read novels featuring beautiful friendships.

There were other parts of the storylines that caught my interest such as the familial relationships and the supporting friendships which brought some nice elements to the book. I will say there were moments that I felt a bit drifted only because it feels like there was more to tell but had no affect on the interest of the main characters. I saw in the conclusion of the book this story continues which I found this book interesting enough to continue. I'm curious to see what happens next and experience the next chapter with them. Overall, I enjoyed reading the book and look forward to what's to come.

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