Ireland, 1901: The workhouse gates clanged shut behind us, as me and the mammy walked down the hill towards the town. I was six years old and leaving the only home I had ever known…
When Cissy Ryan’s real mother comes to claim her from the workhouse, it’s not how she imagined. Her family’s tumbledown cottage has ice on the inside of its windows and is in an isolated, poverty-stricken village in the muddy Irish countryside. But when Cissy is allowed to help neighbour Colm Doyle and his horse named Blue on their milk round one morning, Cissy starts to feel as though friendship could get her through anything.
It’s Colm who looks in on Cissy’s grandfather when she starts at the village school, and Colm who tells her to hold her chin high when she interviews for a position at the grand Bretton House. But in the vast mansion with its shining floors and sweeping staircase, it’s Master Peter Bretton who captures Cissy’s heart with his dark curls and easy laugh.
As Cissy blossoms from a skinny orphan into a confident young girl, Colm tells her she’s as good as anyone and she begins to believe anything is possible. But not everyone with a kind smile has a kind heart, and Cissy doesn’t know that further sorrow lies in store for her.
When Cissy finds herself desperate, alone, and faced with a devastating choice, can she find the strength to survive?
I absolutely adore Sandy’s books even if they do turn me into a bit of an emotional wreck. I couldn’t wait to read ‘The Little Orphan Girl’ and it appealed to me on so many levels, which I will explain a bit later on. All I can say on finishing reading the book is ‘Wow’. I absolutely LOVED it but more about that in a bit.
I really, really felt for the character of Cissy Ryan. When we first meet her she is living in a workhouse. She hasn’t really known any different. One day her mother goes to the workhouse to ‘reclaim’ her daughter. The problem is that Cissy doesn’t recognise her mother and she doesn’t know her so going to live with her mother and her grandfather, who are two strangers to her, is a frightening prospect. The three of them learn to live with each other and relationships are built. Cissy blossoms in their care and I found myself chuckling at some of the things she said as she doesn’t have a filter so she comes straight out with some pearlers of lines. Cissy gets on well at school and she makes a life for herself. The time comes for her to leave school and jump into the world of employment. I found it heart wrenching to read about her leaving her mother and her grandfather and move on to the next stage of her life. I had to make sure I had a supply of tissues handy. I couldn’t help but hope that she would find the happy ever after that she so deserved. Will she find that happy ever after? Well for the answer to that question and more you are just going to have to read the book for yourself to find out because I am not going to tell you.
I said that the book appealed to me on so many levels and now I had better explain in a bit further detail. I absolutely loved the fact that the book is set in Ireland. I have Irish ancestry and I feel an affinity with the Irish. Plus I have ginger hair which I put down to my Celtic roots. The other main reason that the book appealed to me was the fact that it featured an orphan who lived in a workhouse. I am a passionate fan of social history with a special interest in the whole workhouse system. Part of that is down to the fact that I also have a relative, who lived in a workhouse. Granted she wasn’t a child at the time but she did give birth to a baby boy whilst she lived in the institution. I always admired her courage and her determination because giving birth, living in a workhouse and then taking the child with you to live as a single parent in the 1870s were not easy things to do. My relative had previously been in prison, gave birth to a child and then the child went for an informal adoption. So double respect to her. Anyway that is enough about my family history so back to the review I go.
Oh my giddy aunt this was one hell of an emotional rollercoaster read that certainly put me through the emotional wringer and then some. I am not usually one of those people who react so emotionally to a book but with this book I did. The author’s writing style is such that you can’t fail to be drawn into the story and before you realise you are hooked on the book. Sandy’s writing is so realistic that I could visualise the action taking place in front of me- it was as though I was watching a television drama. Her writing is so raw and so convincing that I empathised with Cissy and I literally felt every emotion that she went through.
Reading this book soon became seriously addictive although at times I did have to put the book down. Not because it is badly written or anything like that but because I needed to recover emotionally from what I had just read. The pages of the book seem to fly past in a blur and it seemed like it didn’t take long at all for me to get through the book, but in reality it took a few hours. I was so focused on the story as well as being swept along by it that I didn’t realise just how quick the time was passing. I would pick the book up only intending to read a couple of chapters but that intention soon flew out of the window because I was so desperate to find out what fate had in store for Cissy. I was crossing my fingers and my toes that things worked out for her in the end.
In short I absolutely totally, utterly and absolutely loved reading ‘The Little Orphan Girl’ and I would definitely recommend it to other readers. I can’t wait to see what Sandy Taylor comes up with next. The score on the Ginger Book Geek board is a very well deserved 5* out of 5*.