“Fallen Grace” by Mary Hooper
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
Summary from Goodreads:
Grace Parkes has just had to do a terrible thing. Having given birth to an illegitimate child, she has travelled to the famed Brookwood Cemetery to place her small infant’s body in a rich lady’s coffin. Following the advice of a kindly midwife, this is the only way that Grace can think of to give something at least to the little baby who died at birth, and to avoid the ignominy of a pauper’s grave. Distraught and weeping, Grace meets two people at the cemetery: Mrs Emmeline Unwin and Mr James Solent. These two characters will have a profound affect upon Grace’s life. But Grace doesn’t know that yet. For now, she has to suppress her grief and get on with the business of living: scraping together enough pennies selling watercress for rent and food; looking after her older sister, who is incapable of caring for herself; thwarting the manipulative and conscience-free Unwin family, who are as capable of running a lucrative funeral business as they are of defrauding a young woman of her fortune. A stunning evocation of life in Victorian London, with vivid and accurate depictions, ranging from the deprivation that the truly poor suffered to the unthinking luxuries enjoyed by the rich: all bound up with a pacy and thrilling plot, as Grace races to unravel the fraud about to be perpetrated against her and her sister.
The story was a really good mix of historical fiction with a bit of mystery. We got to see two different types of poor in the book. We see the very bottom of the food chain. Grace and Lily are literally scraping by penny to penny. They eventually ‘move up’ to the serving glass where they no longer worry about food or shelter but their condition is about the same. The mystery was allowed to steep very slowly. I almost forgot about the secondary storyline because I was so caught up in learning about the girls’ life. You’re able to feel the tension mount. You don’t want to put the book down because you want to make sure everything ends well for the girls.
Grace and Lily were very sweet characters. I love how Grace stepped up to be the big sister. She might not have liked it but she did it anyway. I love how she did everything she could for Lily. Caring for someone with special needs will always be difficult to do. You saw how hard it was to barely scrape by for the girls. Then you saw the added difficulty of caring for a sister with special needs. All that stressed me out just thinking about it! The fact that Grace fought as hard as she could for Lily won big points for me.
Hooper does a great job of setting the historical mood. At the top of every chapter are pieces of writing from the time period: advertisements, tombstones, business cards, etc. They weren’t overwhelming but just enough to let you get a feel for the world. There’s also some historical notes in the back from the author’s research. It’s not crucial to the story but it’s nice to learn some fun bonus history about the time period.
The bottom line? A thoroughly engaging story.