Elizabeth Gilbert's 'City of Girls' Lives Up to the Hype

"What I didn’t expect were the serious plot lines and themes that made this into more than just a fluffy summer read."

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When you're dealing with an author as prolific as Elizabeth Gilbert, each new book inevitably comes with high expectations. Luckily, for many #ReadWithMC readers, City of Girls did not disappoint. It's been four years since Gilbert released Big Magicher first self-help book and a major detour from past bestselling works like Eat, Pray, Love, but she made sure to bring all of the sex, power, and "deliciousness" in her latest novel, City of Girls.

In the novel, Vivian, the niece of a playwright, reflects on how she lived her truth after she was kicked out of boarding school and forced to live with her aunt in New York City during the 1940s. There's a lot of unapologetic sex that received mixed reviews from #ReadWithMC readers, but overall Gilbert's fans are giving the book five stars and have deemed it way "more than just a fluffy summer read."

Here, #ReadWithMC explains exactly why City of Girls is so great.

"Pour yourself a gin rickey, sashay through the smoky haze of The Stork Club, and find your seat under the bright lights of the Lily Playhouse. City of Girls is the perfect mix of razzle dazzle and moxie that your summer reading needs. This is the story of Vivian, a doe eyed, small town girl who finds herself more or less dumped on the doorstep of her eccentric aunt’s theater after she fails to cut the mustard at Vassar. Vivian quickly befriends the resident show girl and under her guidance, discovers the New York night life and all of its glorious debauchery.

During the day, Vivian works for her aunt sewing costumes for the struggling theater's productions, and she becomes a vital part of her staff when they enlist the help of a genius playwright and an A-list actress to breathe new life on to their stage. The company ends up producing a fantastic play that becomes the toast of the town and the reader is provided with a front row seat where you can almost feel the costume feathers tickling your face, experience the emotion as Edna belts out her songs, lose yourself in the excited energy of the audience as they applaud, and call out for an encore night after night. But, all good things must come to an end, and Vivian plays an unknowing hand in the theater's hard fall from grace.

This story is definitely a departure from the author’s previous works and there were a few spots where the narrative tended to drag a bit, but the decadence of Gilbert’s writing and her exuberant array of characters makes for a delightful read." —@prose_and_palate

"First line: 'In the summer of 1940, when I was nineteen years old and an idiot, my parents sent me to live with my Aunt Peg, who owned a theater company in New York City.'

From the moment I heard Elizabeth Gilbert read those lines, I was hooked. I had the pleasure of seeing her earlier this month at The Lincoln Theatre in an event sponsored by Politics and Prose. I have admired her openness and vulnerability for many years, so it was a joy to see and hear @elizabeth_gilbert_writer read from City of Girls and speak about writing, loss, courage, and love.

This book is so fun and would make a wonderful addition to your summer reading. Vivian is spirited and complicated and brave. I loved reading this quirky cast of characters." —@destinationwellread

"This book is riveting and I love the way NYC is so vibrantly painted as almost another character in the story. I am totally with Gilbert and would LOVE to see a movie version of this starring Allison Janney as Aunt Peg (and could also totally see Alex Borstein as Olive! Maybe Lily Collins as Vivian?) Regardless it is my new favorite book—the way the female characters are written is brilliant! —@maracsantilli

"'The field of honor is a painful field...That’s what my father taught me when I was young. He taught me that the field of honor is not a place where children can play.' This book is widely adored and it lived up to all the hype. What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

To me, this book felt like a treatise on the power of words. The words we hear from others and the words we tell ourselves can have so much power over us. This book spoke to me about the universality of our messy human-ness and the way a simple extended mercy can heal our shame.


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Speaking of the power of words...I obviously got a bit carried away with my sticky tabs to mark all of the beautiful passages Elizabeth Gilbert crafted within these pages. Would you believe I rarely ever use 1-2 markers, if any?

I loved that the story was told from the perspective of Vivian as she nears the end of her life, looking back on her coming-of-age story beginning at 19. I hesitated to give this book 5 stars because for me, personally, I don’t like to read a lot of open-door sexual content. This is definitely an rated-R book, so be aware if that is something that bothers you. Gilbert’s beautiful language and that last 1/3 of the book that had me in tears tipped the scales for me." —@what.jill.reads

"I just finished this book and really enjoyed it! Vivian is ahead of her time in so many ways. I love how unconventional her character is and how she stays true to herself. Super entertaining!" —@mariawyattuhl

"Oh man, guys. This book. Going into it I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but it proved me wrong time and time again. The writing in this book is so freakin’ wonderful and vivid, the characters are likable and relatable, and the setting is 1940s New York City. I went into this book thinking one thing, and came out of it getting something completely different. I heard people comparing this to Evelyn Hugo, and while I definitely got some of those vibes, I think they’re both so different. If you’re looking for a story about life and the highs and lows that go along with it, finding yourself and your passion, and learning to face challenges head on: read this." —@reviews.she.wrote

"Only book I have ever read in 4 days! Amazing, absolutely loved it." —_amandavance

"One of my favorite books so far this year! I feel like I’ve been saying that about a lot of books recently, but I always really mean it. This was my first book by Elizabeth Gilbert and I thoroughly enjoyed her writing style and the characters she has developed. It was fun romp through the NYC theater scene during the war, which I expected. But what I didn’t expect were the more serious plot lines and themes that made this into more than just a fluffy summer read. I loved watching as the character of Vivian developed from a relatively naive young girl to a strong, unconventional woman. Overall, I really enjoyed this story (and the wonderful #cityofgirlsbuddies that I buddy read it with!)." —@_lia_reads_

"Great read! Well written and vibrant characters and plot. Loved it!"—@janbienwell

"'After a certain age, we are all walking around this world in bodies made of secrets and shame and sorrow and old, unhealed injuries. Our hearts grow sore and misshapen around all this pain—yet somehow, still, we carry on.’ What beautifully written characters—descriptive, honest, flawed, and endearing. Beginning in New York City in 1940, Vivian’s coming-of-age story is heartfelt and thoughtful. City of Girls is receiving a lot of buzz for good reason. It’s the perfect summer read." —@my.boys.mom

Missed out on our July pick? Starting August 1, we'll be reading New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Weiner's latest novel, Mrs. Everything. Learn more about the book and read an exclusive interview with the author here.

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Rachel Epstein

Rachel Epstein is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in New York City. Most recently, she was the Managing Editor at Coveteur, where she oversaw the site’s day-to-day editorial operations. Previously, she was an editor at Marie Claire, where she wrote and edited culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also launched and managed the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game or finding a new coffee shop.