Monday, 6 January 2020


Title: The Girls With No Name
Author: Serena Burdick
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Park Row, Harlequin, Harpercollins            Release Date: 7th January 2020

BLURB from Goodreads
Not far from Luella and Effie Tildon’s large family mansion in Inwood looms the House of Mercy, a work house for wayward girls. The sisters grow up under its shadow with the understanding that even as wealthy young women, their freedoms come with limits. But when the sisters accidentally discover a shocking secret about their father, Luella, the brazen older sister, becomes emboldened to do as she pleases.

But her rebellion comes with consequences, and one morning Luella is mysteriously gone. Effie suspects her father has made good on his threat to send Luella to the House of Mercy and hatches a plan to get herself committed to save her sister. But she made a miscalculation, and with no one to believe her story, Effie’s escape from the House of Mercy seems impossible—unless she can trust an enigmatic girl named Mable. As their fates entwine, Mable and Effie must rely on each other and their tenuous friendship to survive.


It was the cover and the book title that initially attracted me to this book. I wanted to know who the girls with no names were and why they had no names. I wanted to know who the girl was wearing the boots and the pretty petticoat/dress. The cover really reminded me of the cover of V.S. Alexander’s The Magadalene Girls and this comparison was in my head before I even read the blurb.

The books three main characters are the rather well-off sisters, Luella and Effie. Effie was born with a heart condition and was not expected to live long, however she defied her diagnosis though did suffer what her family referred to as “blue fits.” These health issues leave Effie smaller than the normal for her age and she is also quieter and more introvert than her older sister Luella. Luella is much more out spoken, confidant and becomes antagonistic and outright rebellious throughout the book. Especially when they discover a secret about their father that turns what they believed about their family on its head. The rebellious acts begin quite simply, by the two sisters sneaking off through the woods to spend time with the gypsies that are camped nearby for the summer. Luella ends up running off and when her parents do not include Effie in what has happened, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Effie leaves her life and home in an affluent area and by the use of a few white lies, by changing her name slightly, gets herself placed in the House Of Mercy. A place where “bad” girls are taken and put to work by the Sisters there in charge. It is at the House Of Mercy that Effie meets Mable.

All the girls at the House Of Mercy have their own stories of how they ended up there. The Sisters of Mercy as they are referred to show very little mercy to the girls entrusted to their care and the minimum stay at the House is at least one year, though many girls have been there much longer. They give out awful punishments such as putting the girls in the darkness in what they refer to as the pit. During the day the girls work long tough hours in the laundry. They wash, dry and iron all the laundry the Sisters take in from the rich people of the area. The Sisters are paid for this service and the girls are basically treat like slaves. The girls are fed very little, cheap food and are expected to join in the regular prayers and be truly thankful for what they are being given. Every year some girls are chosen to go work on the farm, which turns out to be as bad if not worse than the home.

I can’t really say much more about the book without, in my opinion, revealing too much. Obviously, Luella and Effie’s parents are worried sick about their missing daughters, though not being with them is more dangerous for Effie with her health condition. Effie and Mable go from being almost sworn enemies to desperately needing each other to survive.

One of my favourite characters in the book was Effie, who despite being born with a serious health condition went blindly after her sister, wanting to rescue her from the House Of Mercy. Effie doesn’t want to be coddled and half live life, to her every day she has to live is a bonus and when she puts her mind to something, she works at it until it happens. Despite having death quite literally hanging over her every day she is determined to not just sit and wait for death. To be honest Effie is quite naïve to begin with but soon acquires the necessary street smarts to survive in the House Of Mercy. I also grew really fond of Mable, her backstory being completely different from Effie’s. Mable is the name she has chosen to hide her real identity, though she does eventually reveal her true name to Effie in the latter part of the book.
I was also quite fond of Trayton Tuttle or Tray as everyone calls him. Tray is the middle son of Marcella and Freddy Tuttle who seem to be in charge of their group of Romany travellers. They stay just beyond the woods during summer and move on in winter, then come back the following summer. Tray seems to understand Effie so well and when she is missing and everyone is presuming her dead, Tray insists she is still alive and will return one day.

The book starts off at a steady pace and it slowly drew me in and held my attention, interest and curiosity throughout the whole book. I did really enjoy it. I honestly didn’t think places like the House Of Mercy existed in America. I have read many books and seen lots of films concerning places such as this but they have usually been set in Ireland, and I remember seeing lots of news programmes etc about this subject too. This book covers some difficult subjects, such as still birth, infant death, death, Effie’s illness, runaways, poverty, and class divide being some of them along with the “Magdalene laundry” aspect of the book. I have to admit tearing up a few times throughout the book and certainly needing a tissue at the latter end of the book.

So, to sum up I loved the story and the strong characters it's just heart breaking and you cannot help shed a tear when you realise these characters are based on real people’s stories. How horrific to be treat in the way the Sisters at the House of Mercy treat them. The humiliation, the abuse, slave labour and disgusting living conditions. I seem to be reading more and more of the historical fiction genre and will be adding this authors name to my list of authors to checkout regularly to keep an eye out for her future releases.

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