Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Let me preface this review by saying that while I absolutely love to read, I'm not all that fast at it. I like to say each word in my head like I'm reading aloud to someone and we're savoring each word image as though it were being told to us by someone who really lived it. That said, I read this book in an afternoon. A chilly, rainy afternoon, with me curled up on the couch with the book, a blanket and a beverage. It was great. :)
I should also mention I'm a total sucker for The Prince and the Pauper style swaps and I had a suspicion that I would love this before I read it. Well my suspicions were correct but not just because I already like that sort of thing, but because this book was incredible.
The author herself says this book was like a blend of The Prince and the Pauper, Titanic, The Age of Innocence and Far and Away and I quite agree.
Beginning in England with young and privileged Charlotte Gleason we soon find out her situation in life is not what it seems. With a harsh jolt to the reality of things she and her friend and maid Dora are put on a ship to America where Charlotte is to meet a wealthy young American man looking for a wife with a title. Dear Charlotte wants nothing to do with that because she's read Pride and Prejudice too many times and wants to find her Darcy (don't we all?) and decides to teach Dora, who has learned the accent and manners of gentility, how to further fit into society so they can swap places in America.
Privileged, protected Charlotte, on the ship to and then in America faces trials and tribulations which would have me curled into a fetal position in a corner somewhere. Her grand adventure goes wrong at every turn and as every security is ripped from her she finds herself completely alone and dependent on the kindness of strangers who themselves have so little to spare. But in the slums of crowded tenement housing and sweatshops is where Charlotte truly finds herself.
Dora, while living in opulence by comparison, is almost as uncomfortable as Charlotte, dreading being discovered for a fraud with every use of the proper dinner fork.
Self-discovery, selflessness and true love triumph in this well-written historical fiction.
At the end of the book, Nancy Moser lists real-life inspirations for places and characters in her story which inspired me to immediately request from my library a copy of How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis - a photojournalist who tried to open the world's eyes to the horrible immigrant tenement situations in New York. The fact that anyone survived those awful conditions is a testimony to the hardiness of the human spirit.
The end of the book also gives a few pages on fashion using quotes from the story and images from an 1880's Harper's Bazar and there are also book club discussion questions included.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It was fascinating, heartbreaking and hopeful.
Thank you to Bethany House for providing the book for review, the opinions are all my own as if you couldn't tell by the rambling and gushing. ;)
And in case you'd like to check it out as well...