(Review) Forgetting Tabitha by Julie Dewey
Publication Date: January 1, 2016
Publisher: Holland Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Free copy from Julie Dewey in exchange for a review
Rating: 4 stars for very good (the first 1/3 of book). 2 Stars for okay (for the rest of the book).
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Tabitha Salt is a first generation American. She is the daughter of Irish immigrants. After her father died, she and her mother move to a tenement in the Five Points district of New York City. Tabitha's mother makes a living by taking in laundry. They survive but barely. Within a a year of her father's death her mother dies. Tabitha is left an orphan at age ten. She has two choices: live on the streets, or live in a children's home managed by the Sisters of Charity.
Five Points Neighborhood from About Education
|Five Points mid 1800s.|
I believe the strength of the story is in the descriptions of life in the Five Points neighborhood of NYC. The first thirty pages are devoted to Tabitha's perspective, feelings, and terror in this rough place where humans lived. However, it was base living. Not only was the living conditions horrific, but the people living in these conditions committed horrific crimes. There is a strong sense of entrapment for the people who lived there. They were like people living in a cramped cage of despair.
Several factors of life in Five Points are examined: diseases, filth, vermin, prostitution, murder, malnutrition, infection, child abuse, profiteering, poverty, homelessness, starvation, rape, molestation, gang fighting, gambling, and illiteracy.
There is a scene where Tabitha is looking out a window and she takes in a panoramic view of the area. This is a dynamic scene through a young child's eyes; and what the reader comes to understand as a place where humanity is broken.
The next section of the story is Tabitha's intermission period. She is in route to a new life.
A third of the way through the story a different direction takes over. Characters briefly introduced become main characters with their unique voices. Several chapters focus on these characters. Eventually Tabitha's character is reintroduced. I did not care for the focus moving away from Tabitha and to other characters. When it first happened my first thought was, "stop the presses, what happened to Tabitha?"
I feel a lengthier (first part of the book) focus on the Five Points Section and Tabitha's life there would provide a strong punch to make Tabitha a memorable character. The focus shifting away from her left me feeling deserted. I feel the main thrust should be Tabitha's life and voice continuing to the last page.
I feel the books audience should be defined. Forgetting Tabitha is not a young adult book. There are several books published for children and young adults with stories of the orphan trains. Forgetting Tabitha is an adult story with strong adult themes. I make this point because some reviewers seemed confused about whether or not the book was written for adults or young adults.
Lastly, I feel the summing up of the characters and their involvement with one another was predictable. Further, one relationship was sticky-icky.