24 May The Sixpenny Orphan by Glenda Young
A stirring saga from the new north-east queen of period drama
As my father came from South Shields, I can claim to be half Geordie, and I do love a north-eastern saga. Catherine Cookson was my go-to novelist in my late teens and early twenties, and I did not think there was anyone who could beat her.
Well, Glenda Young is fast becoming a contender with her Ryhope sagas – all completely stand-alone stories – set in the small mining community of Ryhope, where ordinary folk live, love, hope and dream their lives away.
The Sixpenny Orphan opens in 1909, when young orphaned sisters Poppy and Rose are taken in by Nellie, the knocker-upper for the miners. It’s her job to wake the miners for their shift – it’s their job to wake Nellie to make sure she herself isn’t late.
She has no love for the girls, and they are starved, cold and neglected in the draughty barn they share with the old woman on her brother’s farm. They even have to take it in turn to go to school, as they have just one pair of boots between them.
Their only friend is schoolmate Sid – the townsfolk might pity the girls, but no-one makes much effort to help them.
Still they find consolation in each other, until a dreadful event sees Rose torn away from her sister to live in Sunderland. Their lives literally turn on the spin of a sixpence, and it seems they will be parted for ever.
Fast forward ten years, and Poppy is still living in Ryhope, now married to Sid, with twin boys, an infant daughter and another on the way. They’re poor, but happy.
But she has never forgotten Rose, blaming herself for their separation, and the news that her sister is still alive sets in train a sequence of events that sees her needing all her courage, strength and native wit to right the wrongs of the past.
An emotionally-pulling tale
This was a cracking story right from the first page. Glenda Young wrings the readers’ emotions with her portrayal of the sisters’ horrible lives but balances the bleakness through their warmth and love for each other.
I must admit I was a little disappointed with the community of Ryhope – I felt that the townsfolk I have grown to know and love through Glenda’s previous books might have looked out a little better for the two orphans. But maybe they were all scared of Nellie. I certainly was!
As the story settled into its rhythm, with Poppy now grown-up, it became more and more gripping. The descriptions of life in the mining village, with its pubs and general store, rows of tiny cottages and the occasional big house are so authentic, you feel you’re there. I loved the description of Poppy’s first trip on a tram to Sunderland – her trepidation and wonder were just right.
Poppy is sometimes brkoen but never unbowed
With sick babies, an evil rich man, the threat of eviction and so much more there is plenty of drama here to keep you turning the pages.
And the characters are great. Poppy is just the type of feisty heroine you want in period drama, sometimes broken but never unbowed and always determined to do the right thing for the people she loves.
Rose is quite a complex character, and all the more interesting for it. Pretty and less outgoing than Poppy, she could have become a cipher of herself, but the author takes her and shapes her in a very convincing way.
Sid is a gem, and the people of Ryhope come good in the end – enough for me to forgive them at any rate.
If you like period dramas, then you’re going to love this.
The Sixpenny Orphan by Glenda Young is published by Headline in paperback, ebook and audio format
About the Author
Glenda Young credits her local library in the village of Ryhope, where she grew up, for giving her a love of books. She still lives close by in Sunderland and often gets her ideas for her stories on long bike rides along the coast. The novels are inspired by Glenda’s love of soap opera, and are dramatic with lots of action and wonderful female characters.There’s a lot of warmth and humour too. Glenda is also the creator of the first ever weekly soap opera, Riverside which appears in The People’s Friend.
Alongside her gritty sagas, Glenda writes a fun, cosy crime series set in a Scarborough B&B.
Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me on this blogtour and to publishers Headline for the copy of the book via NetGalley.
Catch up with the rest of the blogtour at the links on the poster
More reviews of gripping period dramas