City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

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City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert starts with a letter between two women. After the passing of both her mother and father, Angela writes to Vivian. She wants to know, “who were you to my father?” Vivian replies that she can not answer that question. What she can say is what Angela’s father meant to her. The rest of the book is the story of Vivian’s life. I thought this was a beautiful beginning to a coming of age story. An older women passing on everything she experienced and learned in her life to a younger woman.

Vivian’s story begins has a young women. She never really fit in with her family or at college. Her parents were tired of her hanging around the house that they decided to send her to New York to live with her aunt. This is a great adventure for her, so she packs up her stuff, including her most important possession, a sewing machine from her grandma – the only person in her family she connected to. Her grandma taught her to sew, and Vivian was very good at it.

When she gets to New York the city amazes her and she instantly loves it. She finds out her aunt owns a rundown theatre, not on Broadway but in a working class neigbouhood. She produces fun lighthearted shows, that are affordable for the locals.

The Recklessness of Youth

Vivian is young and is instantly attracted to the life of a showgirl. She becomes friends with a beautiful showgirl named Cecilia, and they have fun and party every night. Her life consists of going to parties, meeting boys, and getting drunk. The group of friends don’t think about consequences of the lifestyle they have chosen.

Women in high heels and pink dress

In this part of the book, you can tell that the story is leading up to a big life changing event. With the way that the girls are living their lives, any number I’d things could happen. When retelling this part of her life, I think Vivian is trying to show Angela what kind of a person she was. She wants Angela to know what happened leading up to the event. I don’t think she wants forgiveness or pity, only understanding. When people end up on the wrong path, it’s a slow progression. It starts with a few bad habits, and each additional behavior seems small on their own, but together they start to grow. And all of a sudden you don’t recognize the person you have become. But at the same time you don’t remember the person you used to be. This new life is all you know, and going back does not seem possible.

Oh, the deliciously blinding yearnings of the young – which inevitably take us right to the edges of cliffs, or trap us in cul-de-sacs of our design.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Power of Words

This book also shows the consequences of our words. Twice in this book, words are said to Vivian that have a huge impact on her. They don’t just affect her in the current moment, but continue to have an impact in her future. Sometimes harsh words are spoken to us, that are shocking and impactful at the time, but slowly loose their potency as our emotions surrounding the incident dissipate. But then their are other times when something that is said never looses it power, and they live with us forever.

Some mistakes can never be put right – not by the passage of time, and not by our most fervent wishes, either.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

There can be a number of factors that make words stay with us. Maybe the words themselves don’t have much power, but it’s the person who said them that make them hurt. To hear certain thing from someone you respect, or someone you thought would always stick up for you can be surprising. Or, when someone we don’t know picks up on an emotion or thought that we assumed was hidden deep inside, that can cause an internal crisis where you start to reevaluate all you past interactions and begin to wonder if you have always been transparent, and just never realized it.

When words become so powerful that they can changes the trajectory of someone’s life, they can not be undone or forgotten. We have to try to remember this, otherwise we may end up living with regret, and the knowledge that a mistake in a single moment had a lasting impression on someone that we never intended.


In this book it is Vivian who makes a big mistake. Her true character however is shown by how she acts after the fact. This book made me consider both the role of the betrayer and betrayee. It is always assumed that one is the victim and the other the villain, but that is too simple. How you act in both cases can change those labels. What really shows maturity when you have been betrayed, is your ability to forgive. It doesn’t have to be in that instant, because betrayal can hurt after all. But if the other person has shown regret and has learned from their mistakes, it should at least be considered.

The dirty little whores had been disposed of; the man was allowed to remain. Of course, I didn’t recognize the hypocrisy back then. But Lord, I recognize it now.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
City of Girls |

I loved City of Girls, and really enjoyed watching Vivian grow as a person from a young age. If you remember, the book started with a question, “who was my father to you”. In the end this story is about two broken people, who had their own trials in life, and in the end found each other. Their relationship works because they fully accept the other for who they are. They do not try change or fix the other person, they just exist together.

5 out of 5 stars

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