Published by NAL
Publication date: November 3rd 2015
Jordan Walsh comes from a family of writers. Her father is a well-known journalist in Chicago, her mother is a poet and up until his death two years ago, her brother Eliot was poised to carry on the family legacy. Now, it is left to the young Jordan to both fulfill her dreams of becoming a reporter and to try and heal the wounds left behind by her brother’s mysterious death. The problem? It’s 1955 and female reporters are almost unheard of. Jordan’s battles to make herself heard in the tough world of 1950s Chicago are the fodder for Renee Rosen’s new novel White Collar Girl, so called because that is the name of the only column allowed to be written by women at the Chicago Tribune where she gets a job.
Rosen’s combined love of Chicago and history is evident in all of her works. Her previous book, What the Lady Wants was fascinating fiction about the life and times of Marshall Fields and socialite Delia Spencer. In White Collar Girl it is the administration of mayor Richard Daley that provides much of the newsroom action—from insurance fraud to payoffs for judges. Jordan is an integral part of each of these stories, but finds that her writing is often credited to male reporters. When she does finally get bylines it causes enough dissension in the newsroom that she is demoted. In an effort to break a story big enough to overcome the prejudice and to get answers to her own questions about her brother’s death she goes back to the story he was working on when he was killed. Here Rosen uses Chicago history in a case of ‘fact is stranger than fiction’—the scandal of horse meat being widely sold as hamburger to Chicago grocery stores and even fine restaurants from 1950 to 1953—which is true.
White Collar Girl is a well-blended novel with a lot of appeal. Through Jordan Rosen puts a face to the personal and professional issues for women at the time. As she struggles to prove herself in the workplace Jordan also finds herself subjected to the social expectations around her, namely that even with an education she should get married and have children rather than get a job. Getting an education was desired; doing something with it was not. Thankfully, as Rosen illustrates, drawing on fact in her fiction, the times have changed and so did the Tribune.