I was sent a free copy of Bessie by Linda Kass. All opinions are my own.
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Just days after the close of World War II, Bess Myerson, the daughter of poor Russian Jewish immigrants living in the Bronx, is competing in the Miss America pageant. At stake: a $5,000 scholarship. The tension and excitement in Atlantic City’s Warner Theatre are palpable, especially for traumatized Jews rooting for one of their own. So begins Bessie.
Drawing on biographical and historical sources, Bessie reimagines the early life of Bess Myerson, who, in 1945 at age twenty-one, remarkably rises to become one of the most famous women in America.
This intimate fictional portrait reveals the transformation of the nearly six-foot-tall, self-deprecating yet talented preteen into an exemplar of beauty, a peripheral quality in her world, where success is measured by intellectual attainment. Yet it is the focus on her beauty, and the secular world of pageantry, that she must choose to escape her roots and fulfill her fierce desire to achieve and become someone for whom great things happen.
Bessie is a tender study of a bold young woman living at a precarious moment in our cultural history as she searches for love and acceptance, eager to make her mark on the world.
About the Author:
Linda Kass is the author of two historical novels, Tasa’s Song and A Ritchie Boy. She began her career as a magazine journalist and correspondent for regional and national publications. She is the founder and owner of Gramercy Books, an independent bookstore in Columbus, Ohio.
“I loved Linda Kass’s Bessie, which brought to vivid life the coming-of-age of the remarkable Bess Myerson, who may be known for being Miss America, but who truly was so much more: a brilliant young scholar, a musical prodigy, and a woman who stood tall against the anti-Semitism, sexism, and injustice of her era. Kass is a superbly talented writer, and in her hands, Bess Myerson becomes every woman, and the amazing story of her time becomes the story of our time, too. Brava!”
—Lisa Scottoline, New York Times best-selling author of Eternal and Loyalty
“Linda Kass imagines the early life of the five-foot-ten beauty from the Bronx who became the first—and so far only—Jewish woman to win the crown, a feat made all the more fascinating by the fact that her victory came just six days after the end of World War II, at a time when anti-Semitism was so rampant . . . .
Kass gives a detailed look at Myerson’s young adulthood, the runup to winning the coveted crown, and the aftermath, when, cutting short her Miss America tour, she decides to instead tour on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League to combat prejudice. Bessie is a tender, sensitive, and well-researched exploration of the inner life of a legendary beauty, who was fighting personal battles the world never saw.”
—Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Vanishing Stars and The Book of Lost Names
“Linda Kass’s deeply researched novel, Bessie, is a poignant origin story, a fascinating window into mid-century American life, and a compelling brief for Bess Myerson as an authentic American heroine.”
—Louis Bayard, Washington Post best-selling author of Jackie & Me and The Pale Blue Eye
“With Bessie, her third work of historical fiction, Linda Kass creatively melds deep research with the breath of life from her own rich imagination.
Here is a deft and touching portrait of a shy, nerdy, nearly six-foot tall young girl – one Bessie Myerson – who rides the waves of her arresting beauty to become the first Jewish woman to win the Miss America title.
Kass offers a careful understanding of what made this female pioneer in broadcasting, advocacy, and government tick, and how she navigated the lifetime of compromises and opportunities her stunning good looks afforded her in an antisemitic and misogynistic world.”
—Helen Schulman, New York Times bestselling author of Come with Me and This Beautiful Life
“Kass has written a detailed, fascinating profile of the early years of the former Miss America that explores the themes of prejudice, beauty, and self-worth. Insightful and eye-opening.”
—Fiona Davis, New York Times best-selling author of The Magnolia Palace
“Abundant in graceful storytelling and vivid historical detail, Bessie is a fascinating portrait of a woman who was so much more than a beauty queen. Bess Myerson’s persistence against antisemitism and her determination to use her fame to speak out against prejudice resonate strongly in our own challenging times.”
—Jennifer Chiaverini, New York Times best-selling author of Switchboard Soldiers
“Bessie makes the first Jewish woman to win the Miss America title, Bess Myerson, come alive in a way her celebrity status never fully allowed.
Linda Kass builds the character of Bessie through the complicated layers of all Bess Myerson carried with her—her dreams of being a composer, her longing to be loved by her joyless and demanding mother, the pain she felt over racial inequality, and everything she had to tolerate in order to find the platform for her voice, a voice she was determined to use to make a difference in the world.
The true beauty of this novel is Linda Kass’s artistry. She’s created a loving and honest portrait of a woman who meant so much to so many.”
—Lee Martin, author of the Pulitzer Prize Finalist, The Bright Forever
“Like all celebrities, Bess Myerson seemed to come from out of nowhere— a bright meteor suddenly streaking across the night sky. But in this evocative new book by Linda Kass, we learn the backstory of Myerson, the first Jewish woman to win the Miss America title, whose looks and talent captivated the mid-20th-century world.
Bessie reveals the passions that propelled her and the insecurities that haunted her. Along the way, it puts this complex woman where she belongs: back in the spotlight, with all eyes upon her.”
—Julia Keller, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author of A Killing in the Hills
“Incredibly well-researched, Bessie is an engaging historical novel that examines the bigotry and biases experienced by Bess Myerson, the first Jewish woman to win the Miss America title—with parallels to the incessant prejudices present in our contemporary life. Inspiring and thought-provoking!”
—Patrick Losinski, CEO, Columbus Metropolitan Library
“Readers are fortunate to have novelist Linda Kass bring forth the hidden stories of American women. Bess Myerson was the first Jewish woman to win the Miss America title, but she was so much more than a beauty queen. . . . Myerson was an inspiration for women in the post WWII years and her story needs to be remembered. Bessie deserves a crown.”
—Pamela Klinger-Horn, Valley Booksellers
“Book groups will love Bessie! Set in the 1940s, this is the fictionalized account of Bess Myerson, a young Jewish woman from the Bronx, dutiful daughter of Russian immigrants, whose musical talent, poise, and beauty propel her to win the title of Miss America.
Along her journey, Bess is subject to prejudice because of her religion, and witness to prejudice against Blacks and women. Much to discuss in this eye-opening novel, from family dynamics, behind-the-scenes at talent pageants, and the ongoing struggles for equality.”
—Dawn Rennert, The Concord Bookshop
You can purchase Bessie on Amazon.com
I will admit that going into this novel I knew very little about Bess Myerson. The name was familiar of course but as to her story, well that was something I knew nothing about. Bessie offered the opportunity to go back into a time when women were not quite as free as they are now and being Jewish was something that could really hold a girl back when trying to be a beauty queen.
The book was truly very interesting and far more than the story of a pretty girl. Bess Myerson was multitalented and very smart in a time that really did not appreciate women beyond the whole barefoot and pregnant thing. Heaven forbid they should have opinions.
Ms. Kass takes the reader through Ms. Myerson’s life as she enters the world of Miss America, wins the title – I’m not spoiling anything here – and the rigors of fulfilling the role during times of war when women and people of her faith were not looked upon kindly.
Ms. Myerson held forth with strength, beauty and fortitude to be a Miss America that changed the way people thought of beauty queens. They weren’t just vapid, pretty girls. They were smart!
This was a very entertaining book from start to finish and I truly enjoyed going back in time despite the reminders that women were not always respected for all they could be.