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The Bereaved: A Novel

by Julia Park Tracey

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1141,728,812 (4.5)None
Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:

Based on the author's research into her grandfather's past as an adopted child, and the surprising discovery of his family of origin and how he came to be adopted, Julia Park Tracey has created a mesmerizing work of historical fiction illuminating the darkest side of the Orphan Train.

In 1859, women have few rights, even to their own children. When her husband dies and her children become wards of a predator, Marthaâ??bereaved and scaredâ??flees their beloved country home taking the children with her to squalor of New York City. She manages to find them shelter in a tenement packed with other down-on-their-luck families and then endeavors to find work as a seamstress.

But as a naive woman alone, preyed on by male employers, she soon finds herself nearly destitute. Her children are hungry with no coal for their fire. Illness lays them low and Martha begins to lose hope.

The Home for the Friendless, an aid society, offers free food, clothing, and schooling to New York's street kids. When a cutpurse takes the last of their money, Martha reluctantly places her two boys in the Home, keeping daughter Sarah to help with the baby. Martha takes roommates into her one room, rotating her and Sarah's bed in shifts with other struggling women.

Finally, faced with prostitution and homelessness herself, Martha takes Sarah and baby Homer to the Home for what she thinks is short-term care. When her quarterly visit to her children is blocked, Martha discovers that the Society has indentured her two eldest out to work in New York and Illinois via the Orphan Train, and has placed her two youngest for permanent adoption in Ohio. Stunned at their loss, Martha begs for her children back, but the Society refuses.

Rather than succumbâ??the Civil War erupting around herâ??Martha sets out to reclaim each o… (more)

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Take a step back in time, with an emotional look into history through a fictional lens, although based on events that happened. Death can take so much from a family, and in the 19th century, there was so much more to lose, especially if the man of the house passed away. The author clearly did a lot of research, and does a great job bringing the setting and tough circumstances to life. Your heart will absolutely break for Martha and her children as you read this. (I found myself tearing up a few times). If you enjoy books that will tug at your heart strings, you'll want to grab this. ( )
  LilyRoseShadowlyn | Mar 12, 2024 |
4.25⭐️

Set for the most part in the late 1850s and 1860s New York City and based on the author’s family history, The Bereaved by Julia Park Tracey follows Martha Seybolt Lozier, a young widow who flees her home in Newburgh after the death of father-in-law leaves her fate and those of four children in the hands of a lecherous lawyer with whose intentions are quite clear to Martha.

Martha struggles to make ends meet in New York City while keeping her children safe. The tenement where they rent a room houses several families like her own and though she does find people willing to help out, the lack of work opportunities, her exhausting supply of belongings to pawn off and almost nothing left of the money she had brought with them, Martha and her children are forced to survive on less than the bare minimum. To keep her children from starving, Martha makes the difficult choice to leave her children, initially, her two sons one of whose is a special needs child and later her daughter, Sarah, who is her oldest and her baby, Homer, in the care of The Home for the Friendless, charitable society that offers food, lodging and education to children whose family could not afford better care. Assuming this to be a temporary arrangement that would allow Martha access to her children on visitation days, Martha signs the papers not fully understanding what “surrendering” her children to the care of the organization entails. Unbeknownst to her, the organization places children with families across the country by way of “orphan trains” – a fact she comes to know after it is too late and all her children have been relocated.

The narrative follows Martha through the the Civil War years as she struggles to better her own situation, find her children and reunite her family.

The Bereaved by Julia Park Tracey is a moving story that revolves around family, sacrifice, motherhood and grief. The author does an excellent job of describing the setting in terms of time and place while also shedding light on the how parents were tricked into signing away their rights to their children, who were then ferried across the country for adoption or indentured to work. I have read about orphan trains in the past and this story presents a darker aspect of how the orphan train movement operated. The story is presented from Martha’s perspective in the first-person narrative format. Martha is an admirable protagonist and we can feel her pain and despair as struggles with poverty and faces fear and despair when her children are taken from her. In an era where women had few rights or opportunities, Martha’s determination and strength are inspiring. She faces poverty, harassment, ridicule, and much more, but she does not give up in her search for her children. The characters are well-developed (even the unlikeable ones) and I was engrossed in the narrative from the very first page. I enjoyed the crisp writing and the structure of the narrative. However, I did feel the ending (and a large part of the second half of the novel) was a tad rushed.

In her Note, the author shares how she was inspired to research the history of her family (Martha’s youngest child was her second great-grandfather) and the facts that she discovered in the course of her quest and how those facts were combined with some fictional elements into the crafting of this beautiful novel.

Overall, this is an incredibly moving story that I would not hesitate to recommend. Just be prepared to shed more than a few tears.

Many thanks to Sibylline Press and NetGalley for the digital review copy of this novel. All opinions expressed in this review are my own. ( )
  srms.reads | Sep 4, 2023 |
The Bereaved Is a heart-wrenching fictional account of Julia Park Tracey’s family history, taking place in the era when women and children had no choice in what happened to them. This story takes place mostly in New York City as we witness the struggle of Martha trying to make ends meet as a single mother of four. With her children hungry she grasps the unbelievable story of free help from the The Home for the Friendless, a charitable society that offers food, lodging and education to children whose families are in need. Martha assumed was a temporary arrangement that would allow her to see her children on visitation days. Martha signs the papers not fully understanding what “surrendering” her children to the care of the devious organization means. Without her knowledge, the organization places children with families across the country by way of “orphan trains”, a fact she discovers after it is too late.

Julia Park Tracey did a fantastic job world building and character development which kept me turning the pages of this very emotional story. My reason for 4 stars vs 5 is the there wasn’t enough detail given to Martha getting her children back in the last third of the story. I would have preferred a longer version with the same non-rushed felling as the first 2/3s, butt overall a book definitely worth reading.

Many thanks to the publisher Sibylline Press via NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this story. I was under no obligation to write a favorable review and all opinions are my own. ( )
  ladyharris | Aug 22, 2023 |
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Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:

Based on the author's research into her grandfather's past as an adopted child, and the surprising discovery of his family of origin and how he came to be adopted, Julia Park Tracey has created a mesmerizing work of historical fiction illuminating the darkest side of the Orphan Train.

In 1859, women have few rights, even to their own children. When her husband dies and her children become wards of a predator, Marthaâ??bereaved and scaredâ??flees their beloved country home taking the children with her to squalor of New York City. She manages to find them shelter in a tenement packed with other down-on-their-luck families and then endeavors to find work as a seamstress.

But as a naive woman alone, preyed on by male employers, she soon finds herself nearly destitute. Her children are hungry with no coal for their fire. Illness lays them low and Martha begins to lose hope.

The Home for the Friendless, an aid society, offers free food, clothing, and schooling to New York's street kids. When a cutpurse takes the last of their money, Martha reluctantly places her two boys in the Home, keeping daughter Sarah to help with the baby. Martha takes roommates into her one room, rotating her and Sarah's bed in shifts with other struggling women.

Finally, faced with prostitution and homelessness herself, Martha takes Sarah and baby Homer to the Home for what she thinks is short-term care. When her quarterly visit to her children is blocked, Martha discovers that the Society has indentured her two eldest out to work in New York and Illinois via the Orphan Train, and has placed her two youngest for permanent adoption in Ohio. Stunned at their loss, Martha begs for her children back, but the Society refuses.

Rather than succumbâ??the Civil War erupting around herâ??Martha sets out to reclaim each o

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