Review | Bachelor Girl, Kim Van Alkemade

35297281Bachelor Girl begins with an estate auction: Jacob Ruppert, the millionaire owner of the New York Yankees, has just left his estate and the bulk of his fortune to an unknown actress, Helen Winthrope. The book then takes us back to 1920s New York, where Helen is enjoying the life of a “bachelor girl” – a working woman living on her own terms. Having just recovered from a major medical procedure, she fills in for the manager of a struggling theatre and discovers a love for producing plays. Jacob Ruppert, who was partially responsible for the accident that killed Helen’s father years ago, has kept in touch with her family, and takes an interest in supporting Helen’s career. Helen becomes close friends with Ruppert’s secretary Albert, a gay man who keeps his professional life strictly separate from his weekends with the gay community, and they form a comfortably platonic partnership.

Bachelor Girl is such a captivating story and I had a lot of fun losing myself in it. I love the characters of Helen and Albert, and I was totally caught up in how their feelings for the people they loved were so constrained by the social mores of their time. I love the subplot about Helen and her friend Clarence, and how they kissed when they were younger but because Clarence is black, they both got in trouble for it. Helen had her mouth washed out with soap and Clarence likely got it worse. There’s a moment where Clarence falls in love with a light-skinned biracial woman, and Helen thinks bitterly of how her skin isn’t that much lighter, but there’s a world of difference in how Clarence can interact with each of them. Helen falls in love with Albert, who is also unattainable, and while she goes to questionable lengths to ensure he never leaves her for a man, she still remains a sympathetic character.

I also absolutely love Albert, and his story arc. He starts off really confident that he has figured out his boss’s secrets and that they share an intimate understanding of each other, but then at several points realizes he may not understand his boss as much as he thinks he does. There’s an appealing naivete about him overall, and how he tends to just trust people. He falls in love with a couple of men over the course of the story, and I wanted more than anything for him to find happiness.

Bachelor Girl is a wonderful snapshot of life in 1920s and 1930s America, with compelling characters you can’t help but root for. I had a great time with this book and would love to learn more of Helen and Albert’s stories.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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