Martha Lozier is a struggling but determined mother in this moving 19th-century tale of loss and survival based on a true story.
Upon the death of her husband, Martha sees no choice but to flee with her children from upstate Newburgh, New York, to New York City. She’s specifically running away from her father-in-law, a lecherous lawyer who tried to rape her and who’s also been named the guardian of her children. To say that life is hard in the city is an understatement; Martha seeks to support young Sarah, Ira, George, and baby Homer, and she’s a talented seamstress, but work is hard to come by. They live in a grim apartment, and eventually the boys are rummaging through garbage to survive. Ira and George, while out foraging, stumble upon a place called the Home for the Friendless, whose administrators take them in and offer them fresh clothes, good meals, and schooling. It seems too good to be true. Eventually, Martha surrenders the children to keep them from starving; she’s led to believe, with artful half-truths, that she can reclaim them when her fortunes improve. Soon, Sarah and Ira are sent away, she to Illinois and he to a place near Buffalo. Then George and little Homer are sent together to Ohio, where Homer is adopted, but George, who may have autism, is sent back to join Sarah. Will the family ever be reunited? Tracey does a masterful job in this novel, developing Martha as a relatable narrator; readers will find that their spirits rise and fall with hers. For the most part, her life in the city is almost too wrenching to witness. The most painful aspect of the story, wonderfully handled by Tracey, is its depiction of the casual cruelty of the righteous folk who think they should be thanked as they break families apart. This novel is based on members of the author’s own family; baby Homer became William Lozier Gaston, who’s Tracey’s great-great grandfather.
An often painful but uplifting novel by a writer at the top of her game.