Monday, October 7, 2013

Forgetting Tabitha: The Story of an Orphan Train Rider by Julie Dewey

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: October 6, 2013

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.

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Forgetting Tabitha threw me for a loop. The blurb described a touching portrait of a child's experiences on the orphan train when in truth Julie Dewey's story is a much stronger tale about both the immediate impact and long term repercussions endured by those entrusted to the care of the program.

Far from being a children's story, Forgetting Tabitha touches on some pretty heavy content including, but not limited to, the world's oldest profession. Now I don't much care one way or the other, but I will say I appreciate the courage Dewey exhibits in taking this story where she felt it needed to go and in no way criticize her for driving home the intensity of this awful reality in her narrative. 

Similarly, Dewey's description of the Five Points is both bleak and violent. Overcrowded and poor, life in this section of the city was a daily struggle for its inhabitants and here again, I liked that Dewey wasn't intimidated by graphic subject matter or tempted to tone it down to make it more palatable for modern readers. 

Don't get me wrong, I liked the sections that focused on the orphan train, but it was the idea that these kids were leaving difficult and dangerous circumstances and weren't always landing on their feet that captured my attention. Some were essentially hired hands, others little more than indentured servants, and while a fair few managed to find loving homes, their lives were often dogged by the shadow of the pasts. I knew the material fairly well going into this piece, but even so, was impressed with Dewey's treatment of it.

When all is said and done, Forgetting Tabitha is not a book to be judged by its cover. Heart-wrenchingly poignant, Tabitha's experiences along with those of the other orphan train riders are highly indicative of the history that inspired Dewey to put pen to paper and create this illuminating story of endurance, fortitude and hope. 

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I missed my da and the old Irish tunes he sang sweetly to us after dinner, and the way he was always coddlin' around. I missed my mama for more reasons than I could count. I even missed Mrs.  Canter and all her handouts. I only had one choice... I wiped my bloody hands across my dirty skirt, pulled up my knee socks, sucked in my breath and walked towards my destiny. 
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Check out all the stops on Julie Dewey's Forgetting tabitha virtual book tour


Monday, October 7
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, October 8
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Guest Post at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, October 9
Review at West Metro Mommy
Interview & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, October 10
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review & Giveaway at The Eclectic Reader
Friday, October 11
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

2 comments:

bufftitanic said...

Nice nostalgic cover art. The story itself sounds very sad. Thanks for sharing your review.

The Flashlight Reader said...

You're welcome. I agree, the cover is very nice. I really like the feel of it.