From the publisher:
A beautiful tale of hope, courage, and sisterhood—inspired by the real House of Mercy and the girls confined there for daring to break the rules.
Growing up in New York City in the 1910s, Luella and Effie Tildon realize that even as wealthy young women, their freedoms come with limits. But when the sisters discover a shocking secret about their father, Luella, the brazen elder sister, becomes emboldened to do as she pleases. Her rebellion comes with consequences, and one morning Luella is mysteriously gone.
Effie suspects her father has sent Luella to the House of Mercy and hatches a plan to get herself committed to save her sister. But she made a miscalculation, and with no one to believe her story, Effie’s own escape seems impossible—unless she can trust an enigmatic girl named Mable. As their fates entwine, Mable and Effie must rely on their tenuous friendship to survive.
Home for Unwanted Girls meets The Dollhouse in this atmospheric, heartwarming story that explores not only the historical House of Mercy, but the lives—and secrets—of the girls who stayed there.
I will start this review out by saying I feel it should be required reading in high school. This is a historical fiction book at it’s finest – it discusses real, tangible, events and draws the reader in with characters that are vivacious and engaging. It’s themes hit on aspects of history that are seldom talked about: the treatment of women and girls in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It touches the suffragette movement touched upon, which highlighted women pushing for the vote and labor rights.
“They’d been fighting a whole city of men, the same ones who locked them up and burnt them to death.”
It also ties the reader to The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that happened in Greenwich Village, New York City, on March 25, 1911. It was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city, and one of the deadliest in U.S. history. I first heard about it on a true crime podcast and never in any of my history classes. Women jumped from the building rather than be burned alive. The factory owners locked the women in and left them no choice.
Historical representation aside, this book is essentially about family. The reader gets Effie’s perspective for a good portion of the book and later, when fate deals her a hard hand, we get her mother’s point of view and a girl named Mable. I would have preferred to have the three narrators more interwoven throughout the whole story. I think it would’ve helped me enjoy the book a lot more. My constant trepidation for Effie lead me to set the book down and have to pick it up another day.
Effie’s not a healthy child and we are constantly told how her heart condition will kill her one day, but she keeps defying that “one day”.
“I would continue to gather years for them, pocket away birthdays.”
Effie, Luella and Jeanne’s story is rich with the Victorian era and the richer class of New York City. Luella’s one decision leaves a lot of turmoil in her wake and Effie’s parents decisions drive Effie to make a rash decision. Luella at sixteen and Effie at thirteen act true to their age.
“You were always braver than you thought.”
Mable’s story is full of hardship. I loved her point of view the best. We get a snapshot of rural living, of tenement housing, of how a young, uneducated girl, can make one wrong decision and it can leave her stranded with no options. Her mother’s story is the one that broke me most of all. Mable seemed to constantly be handed cruelty at the hands of those who should have helped her.
I could type on and on and on about this book. The author wove a really great story here and I urge all readers to read her afterward. Her essay on the historical points of her book is well worth the read.
I give this book a 3.5 out of 5. I really enjoyed the book, but would like to have seen the author tie in all three narratives from the beginning to help the reader know all the characters from the onset.
My professional background in biotechnology as a research chemist and as a veterinary technician has allowed me to have experienced two vastly different fields and for that I am thankful. In both careers, I have mentored, encouraged, and developed talent.
As a mother of two (a daughter and a son), I'm a self-proclaimed backyard chicken guru and someone who has “foster failed” nearly all the animals currently running the household. Oh, and I maintain a husband in my spare time.