When Alice Campbell leaves her controlling husband and moves to Boston, determined to chart her own path, she cannot know how profoundly her decision will impact other women. The derelict building she painstakingly transforms into her charming bookstore evolves into a haven of learning, inspiration, and safety for others.
The year is 1954, and Alice isn’t a rebel, just a woman pursuing her dreams rather than those others want for her. Knowing the power books possess to heal and comfort the lonely or brokenhearted and open eyes to unfamiliar ideas and perspectives, Alice forms a reading club. Soon, four Radcliffe College students arrive—Tess, Caroline, Evie, and Merritt. The young women, navigating their first real taste of freedom, revel in being newly independent college women rather than merely daughters.
Surrounded by the classics and bestsellers of the day, Alice conducts a very different kind of class than the four first-year students attend daily. Here, the curriculum encourages individual expression and disagreement. Society and their families want them in a kitchen, not a classroom; Alice wants them to figure out where and whom they want to be.
Society and their families want them in a kitchen, not a classroom;
Alice wants them to figure out where and whom they want to be.
The students are vastly different: Caroline’s a wealthy socialite without a care other than identifying a husband from one of society’s acceptable rich young men. Evie’s a typical tomboy whose goal is to marry the handsome guy from high school. Merritt’s a classic girl-next-door who dreams of being an artist but is encouraged to be practical by her widowed father as he gets on with his new life. Tess, a scholarship recipient determined never to live her parents’ lives, is driven in her studies in a way the other girls can’t understand.
Between classes, studies, and campus activities, the four faithfully attend the reading club, where through Alice’s book selections, she watches as they challenge beliefs and biases. Their friendships grow, as does their self-discovery.
When one of the young women is brutally attacked, it’s Alice she turns to. Unable to talk to her friends or family about what she’s suffered, the student becomes withdrawn, and the strength of the friendships built and nurtured during these monthly meetings becomes strained. Gossip starts, damning rumors spread, and accusations easily wound. The women learn painful yet hopeful lessons about life and even more about themselves and the power of true friendship.
Julia Bryan Thomas’ The Radcliffe Ladies’ Reading Club is a compelling story about female friends, their individual and collective growth, and the brilliant, timeless, and often subtle power of literature to shine a light on life and understanding. But it’s also a tale of discovering our dreams and finding the courage to take our chosen paths rather than those selected for us.
The author delivers a superbly written and terrific follow-up to her outstanding novel, For Those Who Are Lost, which Booklist, The Historical Novel Society, and more praised. For Those Who Are Lost is a captivating story of the children of Guernsey displaced during World War II and the trauma of families separated and surviving on hope. She is also the author (as Julia Thomas) of The English Boys and Penhale Wood, which earned starred reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal.
Discover more about Julia Bryant Thomas and her works on twitter @AuthorJuliaT and Facebook at Julia Thomas