AMONG THE FALLEN by Virginia Frances Schwartz is a heartfelt standalone that takes place during the Victorian era and follows a girl as she enters a home run by Charles Dickens to give fallen women hope. This story addresses modern concepts of the #MeToo movement while addressing the problems of 1850s London. I was kindly given this ARC by Holiday House for an honest review.
Spoilers will start after the short summary during the extended review:
From the infamous Tothill prison, Orpha is haunted by recurring flashbacks of sexual abuse, neglect, exploitation, and the horrors of a Victorian workhouse, but she refuses to be crushed. Her heartbreaking yet inspiring story tells of the resilience and courage needed to make a new life for herself against all odds with the support of the amazing women of Urania cottage and the help of famous author Charles Dickens.
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Why I was interested: I’ve been in a Victorian era kick lately since I’ve been binge-reading Kerri Maniscalco’s STALKING JACK THE RIPPER series and rewatching episodes of VICTORIA so it felt like a smooth transition into FALLEN. The one thing I absolutely love about historical fiction is when it focuses on a detail of a period or an event that is not discussed often. It’s jewels like FALLEN that introduce me to new veins of history that makes me so excited to read and research it.
Judge a book by it’s cover: Orpha — or truly any fallen girl of the era — is showcased with a sense of wonder as she steps outside for the first time beyond the gates of Thothill. In the story Orpha is amazed at the sounds and colors she hasn’t seen in years. It’s only appropriate to focus on this awesome moment.
What to expect: This story is both brutal yet hopeful. There are discussions of sexual abuse, forewarning, but the main character truly learns how to stand for herself as we are seeing now with the #MeToo movement. Orpha feels like a character out of Dickens’ stories and you will want her to triumph over every obstacle.
Why you should pick this book up: AMONG THE FALLEN is a fairly simple read set up into 20 chapters, much like how Dickens’ stories were set up. While it may be quick, it weighs with emotion that is relatable to anyone. If you enjoy hopeful stories, this one’s for you.
ATTENTION: IF YOU HAVE YET TO READ AMONG THE FALLEN do not continue reading. The following contains spoilers for the book.
Virginia France Schwartz’s AMONG THE FALLEN follows Orpha as she leaves Thothill for Urania Cottage, a home for fallen girls so they can learn how to stand on their own.
London’s Victorian era was truly hard for girls and women of the lower classes. Due to harsh living situations and a lack of income, many girls did turn to stealing and prostitution. Girls and women were taken advantage of by those around them — especially by men — and blamed for situations that fell upon them.
The problem was not with girls or women but with society. We see this through Orpha’s eyes as we learn that after her father dies she moves in with her aunt and uncle. Her uncle rapes her multiple times and when she becomes pregnant, her aunt throws her out onto the streets. She takes up many unfortunate jobs, the “best” one probably with her cooking for the prostitutes who never force her to partake. But when she runs away from another man who advances, she is accused of stealing his wallet and is thrown in jail for it and “murdering” her stillborn child.
Tothill looks at all the girls including Orpha as scum of the earth, to put it bluntly. But they are clever girls, girls who know they can’t follow the rules to get what they need to live, and are thus looked down upon by society.
When Orpha enters Urania Cottage, it is assumed she cannot write or read but quickly becomes the voice for the group of girls who are learning household trades to start new lives in Australia. The lessons taught at the cottage is for these girls to learn how to not rely upon anyone else but themselves. Ivy is Orpha’s foil: she has so reliant on her beau, Jack — who eventually gets sent to Australia as well — that it is not until she arrives at Urania Cottage that she takes it seriously to learn a trade to rely not on Jack and his stealing tactics but on what she can do and grow upon.
Orpha does this herself with her love of reading, acting, and writing. While Dickens is very supportive of her writing and writes down her story himself, it isn’t until he leaves the Cottage after running away with another woman that is not his wife does Orpha decide to write her story herself and publish it under a pseudonym. She has learned not to rely on anyone else — especially men — besides herself. She learns how to be independent, strong, and maybe not the ideal idea of women in the era but one who stands against it to tell it its own hardships for women at the time. Virgina France Schwartz creates Orpha to become a self-reliant girl ready to take the world and makes AMONG THE FALLEN a wonderful read.
What did you think of Virginia Frances Schwartz’s AMONG THE FALLEN? I’d love to hear your comments below!
Oh! One last thing: I’m glad to announce that I have purchased the rights to the MediaGalReads.com website! My past work and new work will be transitioning over to that new site soon, so get ready for a fun-filled book-loving site dedicated to all things YA!
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