Sunday, November 18, 2018

"Bittersweet Brooklyn"

Thelma Adams is the author of the historical novel Bittersweet Brooklyn, the bestseller The Last Woman Standing and Playdate, which Oprah magazine described as “a witty debut novel.” In addition to her fiction work, Adams is a prominent American film critic and an outspoken voice in the Hollywood community. She has been the in-house film critic for Us Weekly and The New York Post, and has written essays, celebrity profiles and reviews for Yahoo! Movies, The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine,, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Parade, Marie Claire and The Huffington Post. Adams studied history at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was valedictorian, and received her MFA from Columbia University. She lives in upstate New York with her family.

Adams applied the Page 69 Test to Bittersweet Brooklyn and reported the following:
From page 69:
She feared for Abie’s life, however quick he was with a knife. Where could he be? Was he hiding from the police? And if that reporter got her brother’s name in print, did it mean that he was lost to her?

That reporter didn’t know Abie like she did—how much love he had for her and how, time and again, he’d been forced to defend himself, a scrawny kid, from bigger foes as he had in the orphanage. To hesitate was to become a victim. She understood that. There had to be justification for his attack on that Rothman kid. Abie would explain. She felt fear, yes, but something else, too, as she paced the sidewalk bracing herself to return home. It was pride. Her brother was the toughest kid on Fourteenth Street, and he would always protect her. No one on the street would dare harm her with such a daring brother in her corner.
Page 69 in Bittersweet Brooklyn, the final page of Chapter Eight, is an inflection
point: historical research and fiction converge. Throughout the novel, I used the criminal milestones of old brother Abraham "Little Yiddle" Lorber to plot the course of his younger sister's personal dramas. I uncovered a New-York Tribune newspaper item from 1921 headlined: "Toughest Kid Proves It: Newsie Stabs Lad, Who Doubted Title Given Him."

In this critical final page of an action-packed sequence, Thelma, 13, has fled from a traumatic domestic event in Brooklyn. She travels to her family's Manhattan newsstand, seeking consolation and advice from her older brother. Instead, she encounters a mob at Union Square, a splash of blood and discovers to her horror that Abie is likely the perp.

Her response filtered by personal trauma and adolescence mixes terror and pride. Being a face in the crowd following her brother's attack tests, but does not break, her loyalty. A nearby workman advises her: disappear and don't talk to the police. As she grows up, the warnings are everywhere – and yet this brother is the light of her life, he sees her spark and loves her unconditionally, the way she needs to be loved.

Their bond is a thing of pure imagination. His criminal life is documented, however spottily, in newspapers, criminal records and, ultimately, federal trial transcripts. But who is she, the girl without a documented past? That's what I wanted to know and I answered with fiction. She's a bubbly girl with a dancing heart capable of loving fully, deeply richly – but the challenge is keeping that spark alive as a struggling American immigrant. The love, tenderness, humor and betrayals of this brother-sister relationship are at the heart of the book. The affection grew in the writing, a life force of its own.

I knew in May 1921, Lorber stabbed a boy named Nathan Rothman – but where was Thelma? How did that crime impact her? How does her decision that day change or seal her fate?

Thelma's devotion to her brother defines her. It's the crux of Page 69, and it alternately heals her and haunts her through the years to come and to the final page of Bittersweet Brooklyn.
Learn more about the book and author at Thelma Adams' website.

--Marshal Zeringue