“From the best-selling author of The Dressmaker comes the warm-hearted and enthralling saga of a bold young woman caught between two worlds-the vibrant camaraderie of factory life and the opulence that a budding romance with the mill owner’s son affords-as the murder of her best friend sends shock waves throughout the town.
Determined to forge her own destiny, Alice Barrow joins the legions of spirited young women better known as the Mill Girls. From dawn until dusk, these ladies work the looms, but the thrill of independence, change in their pockets, and friendships formed along the way mostly make the backbreaking labor worthwhile. In fact, Hiram Fiske, the steely-eyed titan of industry, has banked on that. But the working conditions are becoming increasingly dangerous and after one too many accidents, Alice finds herself unexpectedly acting as an emissary to address the factory workers’ mounting list of grievances.
After traveling to the Fiske family’s Beacon Hill mansion, Alice enters a world she’s never even dared to dream about: exquisite silk gowns, sumptuous dinners, grand sitting parlors, and uniformed maids operating with an invisible efficiency. Of course, there’s also a chilliness in the air as Alice presents her case. But with her wide, intelligent eyes and rosy-hued cheeks, Alice manages to capture the attention of Hiram’s eldest son, the handsome and reserved Samuel Fiske.
Their chemistry is undeniable, soon progressing from mutual respect and shy flirtation into an unforgettable romance. But when Alice’s best friend, Lovey, is found strangled in a field, Alice and Samuel are torn between loyalty to “their kind” and a chance for true love.” ~ Goodreads
Released on February 25, 2014
Set in 1832 Massachusetts, this story is about friendships, independence and equality for women who left home to work in the cotton mills. Dealing with the dangers and inequality of labor at that time was a trade off to escape working on farms or simply getting married. Having independence and making one’s own wage was the pull to leave home, but again the trade offs were dire.
The friendship between Alice and Lovey was endearing and special. While Lovey was rebellious and “daring” for a woman at that time, Alice was more reserved in her actions but headstrong and a fighter. The differences in their behaviors is what made them fast friends and support one another through the conditions they encountered. While Lovey “loosened” up Alice and taught her to take time and reflect on life, Alice’s strength and grit is what Lovey needed in the long run (without giving any spoilers away).
“My mother taught me to take risks and be brave when it counted, not just to play.”
I especially enjoyed the juxtaposition of Alice being a factory girl and her experience being in the Fiske household, one of wealth. All the secondary characters were properly developed but I especially enjoyed Gertrude Fiske’s (grandmother) words of wisdom:
“Perhaps you’re too young yet to see how the tides go in and out. For all the wealth and luxury in this house, there’s nothing magic about it. One generation toils away so they can wear fine clothes and eat off silver dishes. The next drifts along, barely bothering to paddle the boat. And then it is up or down.”
Even though most of the characters are in their 20s and the book is labeled “adult”, I could see this being suitable for an older YA audience in the genre of Historical Fiction. The fact that the author added a note at the end about the story being fictional but “the bones are true” made it even more special.
Kate Alcott, a pseudonym for Patricia O’Brien has several links if you want to read more about her books and events.
*Thank you to Edelweiss and Doubleday for an uncorrected reader’s copy. I was not compensated or required to review this novel.