‘The Lions of Fifth Avenue’ balances two stories with an 80-year difference

Book of the Week

Ashley Pelletier, Associate Arts and Life Editor

A few weeks ago, I got a package in my mailbox. Usually I know when I am expecting mail, so I was surprised to find that my great aunt had sent me a book, “The Lions of Fifth Avenue” by Fiona Davis. I finished it in two days. 

Ashley Pelletier

Although “The Lions of Fifth Avenue” is set in both 1914 and 1994, the New York Public Library is the primary setting for both timelines. 

The older timeline follows Laura Lyons, a stay-at-home mother and aspiring journalist who discovers that she has a passion for writing. Lyons lives in a secret apartment in the New York Public Library with her husband and two children. She also attends classes at Columbia University’s Pulitzer School of Journalism, where she finds that the women are given meaningless assignments compared to the men. 

Lyons’ lifestyle is put to the test when she meets Amelia Potter, a radical feminist she went to college with. Potter introduces her to the Heterodoxy Club, a group of people who want to change how society views women. Despite her promise of secrecy, Lyons writes about the club for her thesis, which her male professor plagiarizes, even though he gave her a failing grade. 

While Lyons attends school, rare books, including a copy of “Tamerlane” by Edgar Allan Poe, in the library begin to go missing, putting her husband’s job as superintendent of the library at risk. The missing books are never recovered.

Eighty years later, Lyons’s granddaughter, Sadie Donovan, is a librarian at the New York Public Library. She is working on an exhibit for the renowned Berg Collection when books begin to go missing again. Much like her grandfather decades earlier, Donovan’s job is put in danger. 

However, when her mother, Pearl, is on her deathbed, she gets a clue as to where the missing books have gone. She partners with Nick Adriano, a security officer tasked with finding the books, until an accident makes her look like the thief.

While the plot is exciting and interesting, I found Lyons’ experience as a woman in journalism to be one of the most appealing parts of the story. On her first day of classes, the four women in her class are told to report on a hotel banning butter from its kitchen while the male reporters went to cover a press conference. I was initially shocked by this, but after doing research, I found that this wasn’t uncommon at the time. Female reporters were more likely to be assigned home or society-based stories because that is what people believed women would want to read. 

As a young woman studying journalism, this really struck a chord with me. Although I have been lucky to have limited experience with sexism in the field, I know that it is almost a certainty that I will have to face it. Although it is a fictional situation, Lyons’s determination and attitude toward those who believed she was incapable because of her gender is an inspiring story to read.