Lily and Artie are ten-year old twins in Bermondsey. It is 1910. After the death of their parents, brother and sister are brought up by their laundress grandmother. Out of the blue, a benefactor gives Artie the chance of a proper education. Then Gran gets ill. The Orphan Twins by Lesley Eames is a story of how chances were different from girls and boys in the 1900s.
Lily is at the core of this story both in terms of narrative and emotional heart. When Gran dies, the twins are tugged further apart. Lily encourages Artie to take his chance, seeing him educated in a way she can only dream of, watching as his accent and dress change and he looks more middle-class. Eames gives us a positive story about the changing role of women at the turn of the twentieth century. Deemed not worth educating, pragmatic Lily instead decides to work hard and gain as much experience as she can so at some point in the future she can fulfil her dream. Not yet sure what that dream is, she gains comfort from seeing Artie do well. It’s impossible not to love Lily, through all her wobbles and setbacks, she sets her shoulders straight and moves on. Until war threatens.
Told completely through Lily’s eyes, we see the country – and the opportunities for women – changing. The trio of best friends – Lily, Phyllis and Elsie – are inseparable despite having to make their own way in the world. Each has a talent that shines through. Facing difficulties and challenges, the girls encourage each other. Into their world come people they meet through work. The three girls, Artie, Hilda and Marion Tibbs, and Mr Bax become an extended family, supporting each other through shared love, loss and fear. Throughout the toughest of times, Lily and Artie show how perseverance, self-belief and hard work enable social mobility.
Reading this book was like snuggling into a blanket on a cold day. The Orphan Twins is full of emotion. It’s the first book I have read by Lesley Eames, now I want to explore the others.
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