Monday, October 5, 2020

Minnie's Orphans, by Lindsey Hutchinson

Boldwood Books Ltd., ISBN 9781838893927, October 2020

Minnie and Billy Marshall run a children's home in 19th century Wolverhampton, England. Minnie has her own troubled background, and the Marshalls started the home with Minnie's own children from a previous marriage. Her husband had, after learning a dark secret about Minnie, sold them for five shillings each to Reed House, a rather stark, harsh orphanage. The children had to be rescued from the orphanage and its abuse, and they brought a few of their friends--and the Marshalls found an empty house that the city couldn't find an owner for. It became Marshall's Home for Children, and more children found their way there.
As the book opens, Billy and one of Minnie's sons, Adam, are waiting at the prison gate for Adam's friend, Digit, to be released after serving five years for a minor crime. (His nickname is Digit because he's light-fingered; one of his brothers is Flash because he's so fast, and a third brother is called Echo. They think he's slow-witted because no one knows what autism is, yet. They eventually realize he's not at all slow-witted.)

The family and the orphanage get a lot of their food from their allotment garden, and this proves to be a key factor in much that happens.

Adam does a lot of the gardening, and becomes friendly with Mr. Jackson, an elderly widower who works the adjoining allotment. It's also at the allotment that Adam meets Dickie Stanton, the oldest of the three Stanton brothers currently among the seven children living at Reed House, after being sold there for five shillings. Dickie routinely escapes Reed House during the day, and returns only for meals and sleep--and the meals are unappetizing and inadequate. The first meetings between Adam and Dickie are not good.

Adam is kind and helpful to old Mr. Jackson, worries about him, and one day, when he doesn't show up, goes to his house, and finds him ill. This is only one incident that shapes Mr. Jackson's view of Adam.

Adam's sister, Polly, is in training to be a nurse, but the shrinking economy and budget cuts at the hospital cost her her job and she starts looking for something useful to do.

James, Minnie's oldest son, meets a young woman, and it's not long before Felicity is telling James she's pregnant and they need to get married.

Una Reed, the owner of Reed House, used to, when they were young, have dreams of marrying Billy, and resents Minnie for having married him instead. Her resentment of Minnie and of Marshall's Home for Children is large. The stark conditions at Reed House versus the warm and happy atmosphere at Marshall's are a big contrast, and the source of some of the low-level conflict that finally explodes.

It's a warm, loving story, with decent, caring people not only in the obvious places, but in the less obvious places as well. Very satisfying.


I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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