It is not often where I pick up a book that has everything I’m looking for at that moment and The Subways Girls by Susie Orman Schnall delivered. I started out in my early 20s in NYC at an ad agency so this book was a real treat for me as I was immediately drawn in and wanting to read more. The urge to google and learn something new is always a good sign when I am reading a book, and the Miss Subways ad campaign sparked my interest. Well developed, relatable characters that had me rooting for them and invested in them so much to pull at my heart strings and cause me to shed some tears, two separate and equally intriguing stories that perfectly connect, and just enough information or a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter to spur me made this a winner for me.
In her novel, Susie Orman Schnall explores some of the challenges women faced in the 1940s and some that still exist today. In 1949 Charlotte wants to graduate college and work in advertising, yet the ad agencies only seems to have women working in the typing pool. She has an opportunity to be in ad campaign that essentially is a beauty contest where the winner’s photo will be up in the subway cars, a lovely and successful boyfriend who wants to marry her and start a family, but her desire is to be educated and become a working woman, not a beauty queen or a wife and mother. Her father demands she drop out of school, work at the family business and not participate in the Miss Subways contest. After being rejected from all the jobs she applied to, feeling rebellious and going against her father’s wishes, and initially not being in favor of becoming an object of beauty, she decides to apply for Miss Subways anyway – with nothing to lose, she thinks it could help her father’s business by getting some publicity should she win. Her supportive boyfriend stands by her, although some of his decisions reflect questionable judgement. (No spoilers!)
Seventy years later, successful ad executive Olivia has to come up with an advertising idea for the MTA. She has a complicated relationship with her boss, who has power over her financially and emotionally. Her male coworker is not a fan of women and has no problem stealing her ideas and presenting them as his own. Feeling despair, alone and her job on the line, Olivia has to make some decisions. Her strength and perseverance, despite the odds being against her, lead her to research the old Miss Subways campaign. Through heartbreak, a new love and a surprising connection right next door, Olivia’s future begins to look bright.
Striking a balance for women is often challenging; a constant juggling between works and family….wanting it all. Happiness is fluid and different things may be more important at different times. I found myself rooting for both Charlotte and Olivia, a champion for the women, no matter what they wanted in order to be happy – the job, the beauty contest, the attention from the guy, the winning campaign…I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
To learn more about The Subway Girls read this fascinating Harper’s Bazaar article written by the author.
About the Author:
I am the author of the novels THE SUBWAY GIRLS, THE BALANCE PROJECT, and ON GRACE. I grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. My writing has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, POPSUGAR, Writer’s Digest, and Glamour. In addition, I have spoken extensively on work-life balance and I’m the founder of The Balance Project interview series. I live in Purchase, NY, with my husband and our three sons. For more about me, please visit www.susieschnall.com or follow me at: