An epic tale of the interlocking paths of orphans struggling to survive in 19th-century New York.
Tabitha Colleen Salt was born in 1850 on a farm in Westchester, New York, to loving parents. When her father died, her mother moved the two of them to New York City. They lived in the notorious Five Points District, known for its clamor, debauchery, and merciless gangs. Tabitha and her mother, Maura Anne Salt, manage to make ends meet, but Maura dies suddenly from dental surgery, and Tabitha is left to fend for herself. Not quite 11, she briefly lives under a stoop and makes fast friends with Scotty, already a hardened street kid. She moves to the Elizabeth Home for Girls and is sent westward by train as a part of a program to find suitable homes for orphans removed from the dangers and temptations of city life. Sister Agnes shows Tabitha great kindness, encourages her to forget her past, and rechristens her Mary. Mary cares for young orphan Edmund while on the train, and the two grow close like siblings. Mary and Edmund are adopted by families that live close to each other, and Mary quickly discovers that Scotty was adopted by a family nearby as well. Mary and Scotty eventually fall in love, while Edmund’s affections are captured by Gert; she, too, is an orphan who, emulating her mother, turns to prostitution to survive. Author Dewey is an experienced novelist (The Other Side of the Fence, 2015, etc.), and her skill shines through her artful braiding of several complex narratives. While Mary is the protagonist, much of the plot unfurls from the perspectives of the other orphans. Dewey affectingly depicts the stranglehold the orphans’ pasts exert over their present lives and the tenacity with which they embrace love and loyalty. Sometimes, the story takes a grim turn, but tragedy is never gratuitously introduced to this implausibly heartwarming novel.
A vivid dramatization of the plight of orphans, both poignant and historically sound.