Lilies of the Bowery tells the story of a young woman and her journey with her mother and brother from Italy to New York City. Joan Passerini, her mother Francesca and her brother Luca leave Italy to come to America to be with Giovanni Passerini, father, and husband, who came to America to find work and a place for them all to live. When they arrive Giovanni is not there to meet them and they end up going to a church for refuge where a place to live and jobs are obtained for Francesca and Luca. Francesca is pregnant but must still work. Joan, on the other hand, has a disability that makes it difficult for her to walk, she has undiagnosed cerebral palsy that only affects her legs.
Joan wants to contribute to the household and finds a job as a seamstress at a laundry run by Paloma. Paloma is a beautiful young woman who is quiet, haunted and secretive. Joan comes to have an attraction to Paloma and it is reciprocated. The love between the two grows from kisses to a sweet love affair. They need to keep this quiet as a relationship such as they have is a sin.
As Joan continues to work at the laundry, she learns Paloma's secrets. The reader not only learns about this lesbian love affair but we see how life was back in 1914 in NYC. The Bowery could be a dangerous place to live and tenement life was a hard life, especially since they don't speak English.There are good things though in Joans life with Paloma, they go to the Nickelodeon to see Charlie Chaplin. Joan has her first ride in the Subway which terrifies her, and she goes to Central Park for the first time.
In writing this story it is obvious that the author has done a lot of research into this time in American history, prior to WWI, the hardships of the immigrants, whether Italian, Irish or Chinese. Language barriers and class were definitely a hard thing to overcome. Although Joan and her family and even Paloma, appeared to have a bit more than some, but everyone had to work.
I found this book interesting in that the lesbian relationship that Joan and Paloma have is very sweet, but they know that they need to keep it a secret from everyone. In spite of this, their relationship grows. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it highly.
I received a copy of this book for review and my honest thoughts.