Title: Crossing Washington Square
Author: Joanne Rendell
Release Date: September 1, 2009
Publisher: NAL Trade
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Rachel: Young and passionate about her career, she wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s left her job as an assistant professor of English in North Carolina for a dream job at Manhattan U. But are her ideas about the value of popular fiction – such as Bridget Jones’ Diary – going to be welcomed or will she be ostracized as someone who isn’t serious about literature?
Diana: A woman in what seems to be the man’s world of academia, Diana has worked very hard to achieve a position of respect as one of the top English professors at Manhattan U. She keeps her emotions in check, presenting a cool exterior to the world, but deep down she is aware of what she has lost in her life. She works hard to be taken seriously as an academic.
These two women, while opposites on the surface, are forced to work together at Manhattan U. Through crises and heartbreak, Diana and Rachel are forced to make some hard realizations about themselves and each other.
Joanne Rendell struck gold with her first novel The Professors’ Wives Club [review], and she returns to the familiar territory of fictional university Manhattan U (likely based on New York University) in her second novel Crossing Washington Square. In it, Rendell proves that her first novel was not just a fluke; Crossing Washington Square is a charming novel that you won’t want to put down.
The most appealing part of Crossing Washington Square was the discussion of literature versus popular fiction within its pages. More and more these days, “serious” critics slam genres such as women’s fiction and chick lit, dismissing them as fluff and therefore having no value. Using Rachel as a conduit, Rendell shows that these lighter genres can still have valuable information for readers; they shouldn’t be looked over simply because of the images on their covers. She has very specific discussions in this novel which are great to read and really prove her point. Just because a book is light doesn’t mean it doesn’t have substance.
The academic setting within Crossing Washington Square works very well within this novel. It was interesting to see the departmental politics; Rendell describes the feelings of professors very well. She makes Rachel’s frustrations with her students palpable.
Both Rachel and Diana are extremely well-written characters. While readers won’t necessarily be able to identify with both because they are so different, they will sympathize with them. Rendell really makes both of these women come alive within the pages of Crossing Washington Square. Additionally, it is very satisfying to watch each of them influence each other and grow as people. It’s really nice to see Rachel finding strength within herself and Diana begin to open up to people as the book progresses.
Crossing Washington Square was a thoroughly enjoyable novel that was a delight to read. The discussion of popular fiction versus literature alone makes the book worth reading, but the fact that it’s a wonderful women’s fiction novel is icing on the cake. This is a book that’s not to be missed!