Debut author Jane Healey talks to us about why immigrants get the job done in her historical novel inspired by the real young women who created the Saturday Evening Girl Pottery at the turn of the 20th century.
The Saturday Evening Girls Club comes out this upcoming Tuesday, April 25, 2017! Here’s what author Jane Healey told us about her new novel:
Give us your elevator pitch for ‘The Saturday Evening Girls Club’!
In Boston’s North End in 1908, four young immigrant women form an enduring friendship, forged through their weekly gatherings, that gives them the courage to transform their immigrant stories into the American lives of their dreams.
Where did the initial spark of your story stem from?
I wrote an article about Saturday Evening Girl Pottery (also called Paul Revere Pottery) for a regional home and garden magazine. The pottery has become highly collectible as an example of the American Arts & Crafts movement of the early 20th century. While the pottery itself is lovely, it was the story of the young immigrant women who made the pottery that I fell in love with.
What is one thing you wish you’d known when you first sat down to write your novel?
I’ve been a professional writer for many years but, as with any type of writing, there is a learning curve in writing fiction. There are rules and structure that you need to learn in order to write fiction well. In my opinion, the learning curve is a little steeper than other types of writing! I think people sometimes underestimate the learning curve when it comes to writing fiction – I certainly did!
What kinds of stories do you feel most drawn to?
I love all kinds of stories — immersive historical fiction, mysteries, thrillers, narrative non-fiction, young adult fantasy — I have pretty eclectic tastes when it comes to stories.
As a writer based in Boston, how does the energy of the city inspire your writing, and this novel in particular?
When I talk about the book, I sometimes say that Boston’s North End is such an important part of the story that it’s like another main character. In 1908, it was a densely populated immigrant enclave filled with diversity, energy and activity. Today, the North End is known as Boston’s “Little Italy”, so I was surprised to learn how diverse it was in the early 1900s. It was a mix of Italian, Eastern European and Irish immigrant families.
It has changed quite a bit since then, but it is still a vibrant, densely populated area of the city and certain streets look nearly the same as they did over 100 years ago.
Your story takes place at the turn of the 20th century in Boston, over a decade before women received the right to vote. How do you think the story of these young immigrant women is still relevant today?
The members of the Saturday Evening Girls Club were young, poor immigrant women – and this fact was not lost on them. They knew the odds were stacked against them, but rather than feel sorry for themselves, they persisted and were determined to prove society’s low expectations of them wrong. They supported each other and their mentors (Edith Guerrier and Helen Storrow) supported them. As a result, they went on to achieve much more than many other women at that time. For some, this meant being the first in their family to finish high school, for some it meant going to college or starting their own businesses. I think their story speaks to both the power of persistence and the power of women helping women – certainly themes that are very relevant today.
Finally: what makes you passionate about the Saturday Evening Girls’ story?
My answer to the previous question is definitely part of what makes me so passionate about this story. I think these women were ahead of their time in many ways. In a culture that could be so oppressive for young women, the club offered them a refuge where they met like-minded female friends who were also interested in education, culture and pursuing their dreams. When I first learned of their story, I was surprised I had never heard of them before because their story is the quintessential American immigrant tale. I’m passionate about humbled that I get to share it with the world.
About ‘The Saturday Evening Girls Club’
For four young immigrant women living in Boston’s North End in the early 1900s, escaping tradition doesn’t come easy. But at least they have one another and the Saturday Evening Girls Club, a social pottery-making group offering respite from their hectic home lives—and hope for a better future.
Ambitious Caprice dreams of opening her own hat shop, which clashes with the expectations of her Sicilian-born parents. Brilliant Ada secretly takes college classes despite the disapproval of her Russian Jewish father. Stunning Maria could marry anyone yet guards her heart to avoid the fate of her Italian Catholic mother, broken down by an alcoholic husband. And shy Thea is torn between asserting herself and embracing an antiquated Jewish tradition.
The friends face family clashes and romantic entanglements, career struggles and cultural prejudice. But through their unfailing bond, forged through their weekly gathering, they’ll draw strength — and the courage to transform their immigrant stories into the American lives of their dreams.