Monday, December 2, 2019

Home for Erring and Outcast Girls

Title:  Home for Erring and Outcast Girls
Author:  Julie Kibler
Publication Information:  Crown. 2019. 400 pages.
ISBN:  0451499336 / 978-0451499332

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Even when Mattie's great big dreams had troubled Lizzie, she'd envied her something fierce, for Lizzie came from nightmares, too fearful to dream."

Favorite Quote:  "It's possible to long for home, even when you don't have one."

The Berachah Industrial Home for the Redemption of Erring Girls was founded in 1903 on the outskirts of Arlington, Texas by Reverend James T. Upchurch and his wife Maggie May Upchurch. The word berachah means blessing in Hebrew.

The concept was a revolutionary one. The home was to provide support and guidance for "erring girls" / "fallen women". The home took in young women, often pregnant, and provided a home, education, and work. There were two stipulations. The girls were to "err" no more, and the babies would not be given up for adoption but raised by the mothers. The home operated until 1935. All that remains of the home today is a cemetery which contains about 80 graves. Many are simply labeled "infant" to the point that the cemetery is referred to as the Lost Cemetary of Infants.

Inspired by this history, Julie Kibler brings to life the Berachah Home in this fictional story. The book uses the approach of two time periods - a current day character who stumbles upon the history of the home and two women - Lizzie and Mattie - who were residents of the home.

Cate Sutton is a university librarian with a history and a past that results in a solitary life. In her new job, she stumbles on to the cemetery that is the only remaining monument to the home. That sets her on a search to uncover more. At the same time, she stumbles upon a tenuous friendship with a student, who has a hidden history and past of her own.

Lizzie and Mattie come to the Berachah Home for the same reason that many others did. There was simply no other option if they were to survive and perhaps protect their children. The two form an instant bond that lasts throughout their lifetime. The two make very different choices for their lives, yet throughout, the bond of friendship - a family found - remains.

Through Lizzie and Mattie, the book explores the work of the Berachah Home - its workshops providing dignity of work, its faith based teachings, its sometimes contentious presence in the community, and its ability to create a family and a sanctuary for women who had no other. It also explores the other end of this story in that "everyone might be worth saving, but not everyone can be saved."

Both the current day story and the story of the past put forth an emotional connection. The "surprise" of Cate's story is not really a surprise. The only connection of her story to Lizzie and Mattie's stories is that of acceptance - by family, by friends, and by certain parts of society. That connection too is at best tenuous.

As is common with books using this structure, I find the story of the past the more compelling and more emotional one. In addition, that story does what I love about historical fiction. It introduces me to history I did not know, and it motivates me to go and research that actual history. The fiction creates the introduction, and the research teaches me the history.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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