The phrase "christian fiction" is usually enough to send me running for the hills. I have tried to read a few historical "inspirational" romances, and was incredibly annoyed to discover that these books were nothing more than cardboard thin pretenses at HR disguising what were basically devotionals. I have no problem with religious characters, but when it is the focus of the romance, and the word "God" gets more air time than love in what is supposed to be a romance, I get...frustrated.
Apparently, TIFFANY GIRL is also christian fiction. Or the author used to write christian fiction before she made the switch from Bethany House to a less strict publisher. First of all, as a secular reader, I would just like to take the time to say that TIFFANY GIRL is very readable -- whether you are religious or not. The character's faith is appropriate for the time in which she is growing up, and she uses it to explore a lot of really relevant issues. Is love more important than your creative passions? What do you do when your parents make the wrong choices? How can you tell if someone is really your friend? And, perhaps most importantly, what if you aren't good enough to do what you love?
Florence "Flossie" Jayne is an artist. But she has to drop out of art school when her father blows all their money gambling. Conveniently, the men who work at Tiffany's are going on strike, forcing the factory to employ female scabs. Flossie applies and ends up getting accepted for the position.
She knows that if she continues to live at home, her father will embezzle her funds, in addition to those of her seamstress mother, so she moves into a boarding house filled with colorful characters, including the stoic and ill-tempered Reeve. Reeve is a columnist with a troubled past, and struggling to make ends meet with his filler. Inspired by Flossie and her New Woman ways, he starts a column poking fun at her that actually becomes quite popular. But he doesn't expect that what annoyed him so much about her in the beginning actually will be what endears him towards her at the end.
TIFFANY GIRL is a very long book, and at times I felt the drag. But there were so many exciting developments and twists that I found myself unwilling (and unable) to put the book down. Gist is, in some ways, like a nonsecular Courtney Milan. The way feminism was explored in this book was surprising, and refreshing. In many christian romances, the female character struggles with her relationship with the male character and her adherence to her faith. In this book, Flossie struggles to balance her artistic talents and her identity as a feminist with her budding affection for Reeve.
I read the author's note at the back of the book, and was interested to learn that Gist was inspired to write this book after reading some of Clara Driscoll's letters about what working in the Tiffany factory was actually like. (Clara Driscoll is a character in this book -- she was also an actual woman in history who actually worked for Tiffany and, according to the author, is a big part of why we know as much about Tiffany as we do.) The details about choosing glass and the descriptions of the pieces were wonderful. Sometimes when an author has a character who is an artist, the descriptions of their Process can be very dull and full of info-dumping, but in this case they really added to the story. I could easily imagine the beautiful tea screens and lampshades and hat pins in this book. *sigh*
I suppose if I have any criticisms (ha -- me, without criticisms?), it is that a) sometimes Flossie could be very annoying and b) the romantic scenes in this book seemed awkward and a little forced. Flossie could be a little selfish and pigheaded and there were times when I rolled my eyes at her actions. Whether it's scams, pick-up artists, or believing her parents when they tell her that she is a special snowflake, I found it difficult to believe that someone could be such a moron. SERIOUSLY, WOMAN. But I guess women were pretty sheltered back then, and you could argue that, living on her own, for the first time, with nobody to explain how the world works, it stands to reason that Flossie would be the exact type of person who would fall prey to these mistakes. I just wish she was less annoying, though.
As for the romance, TIFFANY GIRL is a clean romance. There is a fade-to-black wedding night sex scene that is pretty steamy, I suppose, even though the characters are still clothed as the story ends. There is a kissing scene that is awkward (and there is a slut-shaming "I should have known that you're not that type of girl"-type comment that made me wince) because it ended so quickly, and the descriptions of the kiss seemed so stilted and brisk in comparison to the rest of the narrative. If the author did start out at a stricter publishing house, it makes sense that romantic scenes might not be something she has a lot of experience (or comfort) writing. A lot of the negative reviews for this book are actually from people who thought the scene was too racy(!)!) which makes me laugh, because this is one of the tamest romances I have read this year.
I was pleasantly surprised by TIFFANY GIRL. If I had known it was christian fiction I probably wouldn't have applied for it on Netgalley, which makes me sad, because I would have missed out on what actually turned out to be a really great story. If you are a fan of victorian-era fiction and feminist themes, you will probably enjoy TIFFANY GIRL just as much as I have. Hell, it's probably worth it just for the descriptions of the glass, and for the fact that at one point the hero actually refers to the heroine as an Antichrist.
4 out of 5 stars.