By Mary Hooper. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010.
The year is 1861 in London, England. Grace Parkes is fifteen years old and lives with her older sister Lily. Orphaned at a young age, they live a life of extreme hardship. Each day, they struggle to earn money selling watercress just to buy food to eat. On top of that, even though Lily is older, she possesses the mind of a child, so Grace must care for her for the rest of her life. While living at a training establishment where she was to learn to be a teacher, Grace is abused by a benefactor, and becomes pregnant. Unfortunately, the baby boy dies in childbirth, and Grace is heartbroken. She takes him to Brookwood Cemetery, so he can have a proper burial.
While at Brookwood, Grace meets two people who will play important parts in her life. One is James Solent, a legal clerk, who offers to help Grace if she ever needs assistance. The second is Mrs. Unwin, who runs a funeral business along with her husband. She offers Grace the position of being a "mute" at funerals, but Grace is appalled with the idea, and turns her down. After discovering the boarding house they live in is to be torn down, they are homeless with nowhere to go. Desperate for employment and a roof over their heads, Grace goes to Mrs. Unwin, who takes both sisters on. Unbeknowst to Grace, the Unwins have an ulterior motive for taking in the Parkes' sisters. Grace and Lily are the recipients of a large inheritance left by their father, who died in America, but they have no knowledge of this. The Unwins have an evil plan to steal the girls' inheritance, but will Grace find out about this in time? Will she be able to secure a safe, rich future for herself and Lily?
This novel is rich in historical details, and the storytelling is captivating. I didn't think I could endure reading any more heartbreaking trials these sisters had to endure, but Grace's strength gave me hope this story would end happily. A beautiful story of survival, determination and perseverance, this is a wonderful read.