Suchanek’s debut novel about the lives of three orphans who live through the influenza epidemic, World War I and the Roaring ’20s in America.
In her first days in America, little Berta DeLuca faces tragedy. She arrives in New York City to learn that her father has died in a coal-mining explosion. Her mother, the timid Rosa, leaves Berta at an orphanage until she can find a job and the money to bring her home. Sadly, Rosa meets a drunken baker turned gangster, whom she marries against his family’s wishes. His spurts of anger and violence ruin Rosa and threaten to break Berta’s spirit. But this astute and resourceful girl finds friends in fellow orphans Chevonne and Patrick. Their companionship saves both her body and soul from the cruelty of the times. The novel tries to cover too much: orphanages, the Underground Railroad, speak-easies. As a result, the narrative sometimes feels overstuffed with characters that make brief appearances. The drama of Berta’s gangster stepfather and his drug-abusing partner in crime feels unrealistic. Yet there’s a charm to the orphaned characters’ Pollyanna-meets-A Little Princess plotline. They may all find their happy ending with a glamorous and rich family that ensures their lives will be charmed beyond their wildest imaginations. Perhaps that is the American dream, but it feels a little shallow in this treatment. Regardless, Suchanek is a talented writer whose story moves the reader with its emotion, attention to detail and vivid descriptions.
Gives life to an era and outlines what life in America was like for boatloads of poor immigrants and their families.