<B>America's deep dark secret</B>In his first two books, <I>The Same Embrace</I> and <I>Avoidance</I>, Michael Lowenthal touched on topics that traditionally are taboo. In unearthing these subjects, he displayed strong and polished prose, a fearless understanding for humanity, an evocative sense of place and a rich cast of characters. <B>Charity Girl</B> continues in this same tradition.
The time is World War I. Caught up among the hustle and bustle of Boston's Jordan Marsh department store is bundle wrapper Frieda Mintz. Her life quickly changes when she meets the dashing American GI Felix Morse. The carefree courtship begins en route to a 1918 Yankees-Red Sox game. All eyes are on Babe Ruth, but Frieda's are glued to her Army private. After their impulsive evening together, Frieda becomes infected with venereal disease. This encounter leads to a visit by the holier-than-thou Mrs. Sprague (who represents the Committee on Prevention of Social Evils Surrounding Military Camps), resulting in Frieda losing her job.
Tracked down while attempting to visit Felix at Camp Devens, Frieda is carted off to a makeshift detention center. Along with the other incarcerated girls, Frieda is subjected to invasive physical exams, horrific living conditions and forced manual labor. Through all of this, Frieda searches for her own inner strength and forges bonds with fellow inmates as well as a seemingly sympathetic government social worker, while attempting to secure her own freedom.
<B>Charity Girl</B> deals with a dark time in our nation's history. With American patriotism at a wartime fever pitch, 15,000 American women were locked up with no formal charges, trial or legal representation and all for a germ instead of a crime. The author uses spiraling tension and haunting imagery as he traces Frieda's journey from awkward adolescent into full-fledged womanhood. <B>Charity Girl</B> is not for the faint of heart. Lowenthal fans will snap this one up. <I>A member of the National Book Critics Circle, Elisabeth A. Doehring is a freelance writer in Satsuma, Alabama.</I>