Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Book Review: "Forgetting Tabitha" by Julie Dewey

Forgetting Tabitha Julie Dewey
Published: August 3, 2013
ISBN-10: 1491039248
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

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.

My Thoughts:
After seeing a very well-done documentary on The American Experience on the orphan trains, and then reading Christina Baker Cline's excellent book, Orphan Train, I've become fascinated with the topic.  So, when Forgetting Tabitha crossed my radar, I knew I needed to read it.

I will be honest, I had some problems with this book.  For one thing, the story is set in the 1860's, but it could have easily been the 1880's, 1900's or 1920's.  Dewey never really succeeds in effectively framing her story in a period of time.  Part of this is due to the lack of any really specific details, but the bigger problem is that the book is peppered with anachronisms.  Some of these are minor--Tabitha/Mary buys someone a hamburger.  That sounds innocent enough, but the first "hamburger" wasn't marketed until sometime between 1880 and 1900 and it most likely wasn't a widely consumed food until decades after that.  Little details like that can either make or break the feeling of a book.  If the story had been set 25 years later, a hamburger would not have been issue.  Here, however, it yanks the reader right out of the world that Dewey is trying to create.

Other issues were more glaring--a young woman of good standing in the town conceives a child out of wedlock and it....doesn't really seem to be a big deal.  I think you'd have to go well into the modern era for that to be accepted as it is in the 1860's of Forgetting Tabitha.

I will say that Dewey's writing voice is very readable and I don't have much of an issue with the writing of the book.  However, this book is not edited well.  There are a number of improperly used homonyms is this book...things like using "bare" instead of "bear" and "isle" instead of "aisle." This may not irritate some readers, but I am one of those readers where such errors stand out.

There was also a very bizarre error with the points of view.  Almost nearly every chapter has a different narrator, which is confusing at times.  However, there was a glaring error on page 212 of my copy.  I had to read this section a couple of times before I was clear on what was happening.  The chapter is told in first person by the character Gert.  Then, for one paragraph, Edmund becomes the narrator in first person.  I understand how things like this can happen when writing, but a decent editor (either an "Editor" or someone just proofing) should have caught something that glaring.

But, here's the thing with this book.  With all the errors, I still enjoyed it.  Dewey is not a bad writer--she is just in need of a good editor.  Even though I felt the story was a bit contrived at times and some issues were overly simplified, it still kept my attention and I really did care about the characters.

Would I recommend this book to others?  Probably--I might steer those who are as nit-picky as I am away from it, but I do think that Dewey created something that most people would find worth reading.  And, frankly, I'm looking forward to what her next book might bring.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Want another opinion?  Check out some of the other stops on this 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
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

1 comment:

  1. I'm pretty darn nit-picky. It's too bad because the premise of this sounds incredible. I'd really love to see the documentary you mentioned!