Publication Date: 3rd August 2013
Book Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Synopsis: Raised on a farm outside of West Chester County, Tabitha Salt, the daughter of Irish immigrants, leads a sheltered existence. When tragedy strikes the family, the ten year old and her mother are forced to move to the notorious Five Points District in New York City. Known for its brothels, gangs, gambling halls, corrupt politicians, and thieves, the Five Points is a chaotic slum. The women find work as laundresses, struggling every day to survive in their squalid living conditions.
When tragedy strikes again, Tabitha finds herself on the streets of New York City, alone. Summoning her courage and willing her legs that are numb with fear and grief to move, she takes to a life on the streets. Stealing food and running from the law, Tabitha dreams of the future.
During this time the Sisters of Charity were plucking orphans off the streets with promises of a new life. Children were told to forget their pasts, including their religious beliefs, families, and names. They were to become Christian and were given new identities, only then could they board the orphan trains. The orphan trains carried the destitute children out west in search of new homes. Siblings were often ripped apart and many didn’t find homes but became indentured workers in exchange for room and board.
The looming decision would alter her life course; boarding the train meant leaving everything and everyone she knew behind. Vulnerable and afraid she made her decision.
Forgetting Tabitha is the story of impoverished and orphaned children in New York City and the impact of the Orphan Train movement on their lives. Not all were adopted into loving homes, some became little more than hired help or indentured servants. It's a graphic and enduring tale of survival and hope.
Julie Dewey doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of the time. The squalor and despair for those who lived in the Five Points district assailed the senses, while the violence and often tragic outcomes were difficult to read.
The characters, especially 10 year old Tabitha, (Mary) Scotty and Gert wormed their way into my heart, children who've seen and suffered so much, old before their time. Their story is heartbreaking and sadly, real but I cheered their resilience and each hard-won triumph.
This my 3rd book featuring the Orphan Train movement at its core, so naturally my reading experience was coloured by the two previously read, brilliant books, my favourite being My Notorious Life by Kate Manning. For me, Forgetting Tabitha was a good read but it didn't reach superb heights.
That said that I'm keen to see what Julie Dewey delivers next :)
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