England 1936. London’s streets are filled with impoverished children begging on corners for food and stealing to survive. Running away from home after being abused by her stepfather, Winny meets street siblings Mary, Jack, Cecil and Edward. The group forms a fiercely protective bond – separated only when they are caught stealing for food.
Winny and Mary are taken to Dr. Barnardo’s Barkingside Home for Girls – for the forgotten children and orphans – where the girls learn they are to be shipped to Canada and promised new families and a better life. When they board the ship, Winny and Mary are briefly reunited with Jack, Cecil and Edward. They know separation is inevitable once they land and
promise that no matter what, they will find each other.
There is nothing but contempt for the British Home Children that no one wants, and Winny’s new life on a farm becomes endless exhausting chores, painful beatings, gnawing hunger, frigid cold and scorching heat. No one from Barkingside Home comes to follow up on how she is.
Jack and his brothers are placed with a brutal master. They are beaten daily, starved, worked beyond exhaustion. They dream up plans of leaving and finding Mary and Winny. No one from the Barkingside Home comes to check on how they’re faring. Fearing for their lives, they run away out of sheer desperation.
When a community gathering reunites her with Mary, Winny is very worried by her best friend’s lifelessness and is even more determined to save them both. But how? Soon after, Winny receives heart-breaking news. This turn of events seems to affect Winny’s mistress and she seems to soften slightly – even encouraging Winny to think to her future. Is there a chance at a better life for her, or any of the British Home Children?
Moving effortlessly between the past and present narratives of Winny and Jack, the survival of these forgotten children is brought to life. The brutality they experienced. The fear they surely suffered. The shame they were made to feel. Yet, the inextinguishable human hope and the desire to live blazed through these brave children - who are nothing short of heroes.
The Forgotten Home Child is a work of fiction but based on true facts. I never heard of the British Home Children until I read this book and I cannot emphasize enough how notable a part of Canada’s history they are, and the significance of this historic retelling.
With impeccable research on the history of the British Home Children, the exceptional, detailed depictions in conditions of life within the vast societal classes of the era, and simply brilliant writing, Graham delivers a superb read.
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for the read of Genevieve Graham’s, The Forgotten Home Child.
Opinions expressed in my reviews are my own.