Sunday, August 4, 2013


By Jami Deise
Associate Reviewer at Chick Lit Central (our sister blog)

The news out of Washington these days never seems good. Either we’re going over a fiscal cliff, or we’re hitting a debt ceiling, or some Congressman’s been caught with his pants down. No matter what the issue is, one side is always pointing fingers at the other and calling their opponents liars. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to go back to a simpler time, maybe the 1970s, when the news in Washington was all … Oh. Never mind.

Caryl Rivers’ Girls No More is a reminder that no matter how bad things look on C-SPAN, at least the National Guard isn’t killing college students. Taking place in Washington, D.C. in the early 1970s, the novel is a scrapbook of the issues of that day: Vietnam, the Black Panthers, the War on Poverty, women in the workplace, anti-semiticism, sexism and racism. The story centers around four main characters: Congressional widow Kitty Cohen, a Pamela Harriman-type; high school best friends Peggy Morrison and Constance Masters, both working the newspaper trade as a Pulitzer-Prize winning correspondent and gossip columnist, respectively; and Father Sean McCaffrey, Peggy’s high school sweetheart and an advocate for the poor who populate his parish. All four characters tell their stories through their own points-of-view. Kitty, in love with a Representative running for Senate, struggles to do what’s best for her man as well as his campaign. Constance must deal with the jealousy of her Navy husband and their sons when she takes up an exciting new career. And Peggy and Sean fight their feelings for each other.

Although the book is called Girls No More, I found Sean to be, far and away, the most compelling character. While the three women all seemed similar enough that I found myself checking back pages to remember who was whom, Sean’s story – his feelings for Peggy, his fight against a highway that would destroy his poor community, his advocacy for peace – was so personal, detailed and emotional that the character popped in a way that the three women did not.

The novel is seeped in detail not only of the time period, but of the geography of Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County, Maryland. Having grown up in the area, I found that attention to those details particularly interesting, and it really helped ground the book within its setting and time period. It’s almost “Mad Men,” if the show took place in D.C. in the early 70s.

While all four main characters have interesting stories, I did find the book to be a bit longer than necessary. The extra length may be due to the characters’ habits of long conversations full of inside jokes and repeating information already known to the characters, as well as overly long explanations on the author’s part. It also lacks the structure of a formal plot, which in many cases can lead to a feeling of aimlessness. However, Rivers avoids this by sticking closely to a real-life timeline, and the lack of structure allows the characters to proceed in an unpredictable manner.

Two things confused me: the title, which I thought was too general, and the time period, which is almost always “book-ended” by present-day events in order to give context to a story that happened a long time ago. When I went on Amazon to do a little research, I discovered that the book was originally published in 1987 under the title Girls Forever Brave and True, and it’s the sequel to Virgins, which came out in 1984 and was also re-issued this year. While I think it’s important that a period piece not feel dated, and that the “book-end” structure can help with this, these publication details are worth mentioning.

Girls No More has a lot to offer for readers who are interested in Washington, D.C., the early 1970s, or Catholic guilt. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane – or Wisconsin Avenue, to be more precise – and plan on reading Virgins as well. 

Jami Deise recently moved to St. Petersburg, FL after living her whole life in Maryland. After writing and trying to sell screenplays for the past ten years, she recently completed and self-published her first novel,Keeping Score (mom lit!). Now that her son Alex is headed off to college, Jami will have plenty of time for reading, writing, watching TV, and blogging. She’s on Facebook andTwitter.