When a financial crisis in 1850s New York leaves three orphaned sisters nearly destitute, the oldest, Elise Neumann, knows she must take action. She’s had experience as a seamstress, and the New York Children’s Aid Society has established a special service: placing out seamstresses and trade girls. Even though Elise doesn’t want to leave her sisters for a job in Illinois, she realizes this may be their last chance.
The son of one of New York City’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Thornton Quincy faces a dilemma. His father is dying, and in order to decide which of his sons will inherit everything, he is requiring them to do two things in six months: build a sustainable town along the Illinois Central Railroad, and get married. Thornton is tired of standing in his twin brother’s shadow and is determined to win his father’s challenge. He doesn’t plan on meeting a feisty young woman on his way west, though.
Before I even begin this review I am just gonna say it: I love this book. If you haven’t read the prequel ‘An Awakened Heart‘, available for free download from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, then get it now. This story follows Elise (you meet her in the prequel) as the financial crisis hits New York City. Businesses close, job opportunities dry up and even the Seventh Street Mission is affected. Elise does what she can to protect her sisters and the children they were left in care of. She’s given an opportunity to relocate to the west (Illinois) via the New York Children’s Aide Society. They helped secure transportation via the train to her new opportunities and ensured a job once she arrived. What they fail to mention is that the working conditions and the pay are just as bad, if not worse than New York. They also fail to mention how long it will take to pay back travel expenses. They actually fail to mention a lot. We’ll address that later. En route to her destination she meets Thornton. And with many twists and turns history is made. In more ways than one.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it. Hedlund is a powerhouse for setting a scene that draws you in. She engages your entire being into the world she creates. You can smell the stench of unwashed bodies and filth, you can see the haze of coal smoke from the buildings and trains. You can envision the flat nothingness that is Illinois over the stacked hustle and bustle of people on top of people that was New York. You may be wrapped up in your cozy reading spot but you are ‘there’ in the moment that Hedlund takes you too. You have to look again at your hands to make sure they aren’t covered in soot or chapped by manual labor. When she first introduced the Quincy family I wasn’t sure why they mattered a chapter. But when Elise met up with Thornton on the streets of New York I knew there were important things to come.
Another thing that Hedlund excels at is her knowledge (read I’m sure days upon days of research) of the time period she is writing and the social and moral issues of the time. She takes on the plight of poor immigrant families in Lower Manhattan (and the Illinois prairie) as though she was one. She takes on the inequality of the rich and poor, male and female, adult and child as though she actually experienced all of those things personally. She does so in a way that is appropriate to the time without coming across as a social injustice warrior attacking where we have come from. When Elise stands up for what she thinks and gets fired for what she says, well you know that good things are coming. And like Thornton I am confident there were other’s like him that when confronted with things that needed changed made the hard decisions to buck ‘tradition’ and make those changes. They weren’t many, they weren’t common, and they aren’t necessarily documented and lauded by history. Change is slow. Even necessary change.
Honestly, there’s nothing I did not like about this book. The characters spoke to me, the spent hours engaged in their lives. The story spoke to me and for a small fraction I can almost imagine I was there. I am ever so grateful to the author, Jody Hedlund, and her publisher Bethany house (via NetGalley) for allowing me the opportunity to pre-review this book. I know my life is different and I cannot wait for future installments in this series.
I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by Jody Hedlund, Bethany House, and NetGalley. I was not compensated for this review and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. I was not required to write a positive review.
About Jody Hedlund
Winner of the 2016 Christian Book Award for fiction and Christy Award for historical romance, best-selling author Jody Hedlund writes inspirational historical romances for both youth and adults.
Jody lives in central Michigan with her husband, five busy children, and five spoiled cats. Although Jody prefers to experience daring and dangerous adventures through her characters rather than in real life, she’s learned that a calm existence is simply not meant to be (at least in this phase of her life!).
When she’s not penning another of her page-turning stories, she loves to spend her time reading, especially when it also involves consuming coffee and chocolate.
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