In The Division Street Princess by Elaine Soloway, there is a strong sense of time and place. The time is 1942 to 1951, when the United States is at war, wins, and starts changing in many ways. The place is 2505 W. Division Street in Chicago, just west of the intersection with Western Avenue, four blocks east of Humboldt Park, where Soloway's parents (with help from other family members) buy the downstairs grocery and name it Irv's Finer Foods. The Jewish immigrant couple is pursuing the "American Dream."
Irv's Finer Foods becomes the center of the universe for Soloway, who at age four is a helper in the store. From her own child-sized counter, she witnesses wartime scarcity, customer credit problems, extended family interactions, her father's candy bar addiction, and her mother's struggle to balance the books. During the time, the ethnic and racial make-up of the community begins to change, as friends and family move to the suburbs. Eventually, an A & P Supermarket opens across the street, challenging the family to find a way to continue.
The world that Soloway describes is charming but it is also dangerous. Bookies work out of back rooms. Strange men tempt little girls outside community centers. The newspapers are filled with kidnapping stories. The Division Street Princess can be used as evidence that life was not so much better "way back when."
More Chicago region public libraries should add this wonderful book. Libraries outside the area should also consider it. It should be added to World War II home front booklists.
Soloway, Elaine. The Division Street Princess: A Memoir. Minneapolis: Syren Book Company, 2006. ISBN 0929636635