The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall is a women’s fictional novel spanning two time periods, the present and 1946. The book follows two women with similar goals despite the half-century that separates them.

Olivia’s love life is pretty much non-existent but at least her career as a successful advertising agency executive in New York is on track. Or at least that is what she thinks.  With her agency losing a big client, Olvia is pitted against her nemesis Thomas to come up with the perfect pitch for a prospective client, The MTA. Not winning, may cost Olivia her job.

The other half of the story it is 1946 and Charlotte is desperately trying to secure a spot in the typing pool at one of New York’s prestigious advertising agencies as her stepping stone to working on campaigns. Her dreams of being a career woman are dashed when her father had let go of his only employee in his struggling business. He expects Charlotte to not only leave college but work full time in his failing paint store in Brooklyn, at least until she gets married. Desperate to find a solution to get her career back on track and to give her family’s business a boost she enters the Miss Subway Competition put on by the City as a way to get New Yorkers to ride the trains more. At her first interview, she meets the enigmatic Rose, who proves to be the catalyst to changing her life.

The Characters

Writing novels that take place at different points in time is not easy and Susie Orman Schnall manages to pull it off very well. Both Charlotte and Olivia are very distinct characters as are the worlds that they inhabit. Never at any point do you feel like you are not sure which time period or character that you are with.

There is a huge part of me that identifies with both Charlotte and Olivia. I completely understand the allure of the glamour advertising agencies and the disappointment that comes from not getting in. I also completely feel for Olivia as she comes to understand that her life is not the one she wants even though its the one she worked for.


What I loved

I’m a sucker for novels that take place in two time periods, The Bequest by Victoria Petrie Hay is still one of my most favourite books ever.


What I Did Not Like

I felt that some of Charlotte’s story was a little rushed, I would have liked to spend more time with her as she grappled with the huge life changes and challenges that she is going through.


“My agency runs the whole program and my boss told me that they’re always looking for pretty girls. Let me enter you, Charlotte,” Martin said. “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

“Whatever you say, Martin. As long as you get me an interview at your agency.”

“You can be sure of that, Charlotte. J. Walter Thompson would be lucky to have a girl like you in the typing pool.”

Let’s just see what happens, they had said to her. Live a little, Charlotte. “Why not?” she had ultimately told them, trying, though it wasn’t easy, to be game and easygoing. Charlotte had been 99 percent certain that nothing would ever result from them entering her besides a curtly worded letter thanking her for her interest and sending her on her pleasant good -luck -ever -being -a -model way. Make that 100 percent.

But, she now realized, she was wrong. Something had come of it.

Charlotte laughed aloud at the cruel irony. Two letters in one day. The first denying her entree into the industry she so desperately wanted to be part of.

The second inviting her to participate in one she couldn’t care less about. How she wished their contents had been switched.

Yes, Miss Friedman, we’d love for you to type our memos and fetch our coffee. We’re terribly sorry, Miss Friedman, you’re not lovely enough to be featured in our subway beauty pageant. Charlotte crumpled the letter at the inanity of it all.

“Who was it from, Charlotte?” her mother called. Charlotte returned to the kitchen and threw the balled-up letter into the garbage.


Similar books or authors

Tell Mrs Poole I’m Sorry by Kathleen Rowntree.


Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin

Genre: Contemporary Women’s Friction

Best Part: How the two stories come together in the end

Is it available on audio? No