We have a number of customers who methodically read their way through an author before moving on to the next; others will do the same with a series rather than an author. In ways, I’ve always envied them. As a reader I lack that focus or determination. My approach to reading is usually much more haphazard, partly due to the fact that I’m routinely reading between 4 and 6 books at once. One of the things that I find gratifying about reading this way is when patterns reveal themselves and themes recur. Recently I’ve stumbled upon an accidental fascination with fiction about orphans and foundlings. I’m drawn to the family secrets, the quest for knowledge about who they are, and the search for closure about their less-than-ideal beginnings. If you are likewise interested, here’s what I recommend you read:
Y, by Marjorie Celona*
Shortly after giving birth, a mother leaves her newborn baby at the front doors of the YMCA in Victoria, BC. This touching novel charters the drama of baby Shannon’s first 17 years, including how she comes to terms with such a bad beginning. Tracy Sherlock of The Vancouver Sun recently named this novel on her best of the year list.
The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
On her 18th birthday, Victoria Jones is emancipated from the California foster care system. She is damaged and distrusting. The way that she communicates is archaic: she uses the Victorian language of flowers. Amazingly, this language allows her to bridge the distance between herself and other people and have a second chance at life. This novel is an unexpected joy and would be a fabulous book club pick.
The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey
Mabel and Jack vehemently wish for a child of their own. They leave the world behind to take up homesteading in Alaska in order to isolate themselves from the pain of being childless. In this unforgiving climate they meet Faina, a child on her own. Is she a figment of their imagination? Or a foundling in need of a home?
The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton
In my humble opinion, Kate Morton is the reigning mistress of the ‘intergenerational family secret’ novel. In this one, 21-year old Nell finds out that her parents have been hiding the secret of her birth from her: in reality she is not theirs, but was found as a four-year-old castaway on a ship travelling from England to Australia. The sole clue to her identity is a book of fairy tales.
The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman
Apparently foundlings turn up quite a bit in Australia. Here, a childless lighthouse keeper and his wife decide to raise a baby girl who shipwrecks on their island as their own. As she grows up, he begins to question the morality of their decision.
In When We Were Orphans, Kazuo Ishiguro writes “When you’ve lost your mother and your father, you can’t care so much about things, can you?” I think this speaks to the heart of the appeal of reading foundling fiction after the holidays: it speaks to what is essential in life and helps strip away the idea that what we own is what we are.
*I was lucky enough to have been provided with a copy of this title from Net Galley.
**IF the post is too long, please cut The Light Between Oceans. TKS, P.