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Wildflowers : a novel

by Robert Noonan

  Print book : Fiction

Excellent Historical Trilogy Highlighting Orphans!   (2009-04-08)


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by GABixler

Wildflowers: First in A Trilogy

By Robert Noonan



Wildflowers by Robert Noonan is a novel I have come to love.  It is the first book in a historical trilogy and carries an underlying story about the “orphan trains” that moved across the country from 1854 to 1929. Reverend Charles Loring Brace was shocked in 1850 when he learned of and saw 10,000 homeless children prowling the streets of New York City. He founded a Society through which many of these desperate children were sent west to begin new lives.  

In a small mill town there are no laughing children playing and running.  Those that are of the right age are already called upon to work to help support their families.  Many of them work at Alton Mill, where they stand for long hours at machines that can maim, to create the different garments that are on order at any given time.  

Noonan begins his story on Friday, September 16, 1898, as Hillary Cook, whose story will flow through all three books, walked to work at Alton Mill.  She is eleven years old. Her mother is widowed and both must work to have food and shelter.  Kate Moran, best friend of her mother and one of the friendly faces at the mill, smiled as Hillary hurried to her workstation.  Work began at six a.m.  Kate had come to love Hillary as her own and, indeed, had already promised her mother, Laura, that she would take Hillary as her child if something should happen to her mother. The mill was open for long hours Monday through Saturday and there was school on Sunday afternoons, so the only time for play and just being children was very short and much valued.  Hillary and her girlfriends would roam the countryside, searching for flowers, seeking places to play pretend, to be just a little bit silly or to try some new brave adventure…and that is how they came to call themselves the Wildflowers.  For those few precious hours, they were able to run wild and feel the joy and freedom of being just what they were--children. Often, they would run and watch and wave at the children going by on an orphan train.  They prayed they would never have to be loaded and shipped away like they had seen happen to one of the little girls at the Mill. 

But just as in the fairy tales of our youth, here too lived a wolf, who watched all of the flowers, the children he saw every day but who played in the woods so rarely.  He was the owner of Alton Mill.  Whenever he chose, he picked a young girl from behind the large machines and had them sent to his office.  They were there for whatever he pleased, and he took the most precious thing they owned. Even now, though she was only eleven, he watched and waited for the young, pretty Hillary.  

And then in the midst of their daily lives, a stranger came to town.  But he wasn’t a stranger to Kate Moran’s fiancé, John, who had secretly been hiding because he had once been falsely accused of killing a man.  The stranger was the dead man’s brother! John was forced to once again run since there was no hope of proving his innocence.  But John was now financially able to relocate west and find the place where he and Kate would later settle. So they planned and looked forward to that time. 

And then Hillary’s secret fear came true. Her mother became gravely ill.  Hillary stayed by her side day and night but she was getting no better.  And that was the time that Frank Dragus, her boss, moved to take his advantage.  In exchange for financial support for food, lodging and doctors, he bargained for what he wanted from Hillary. Hillary gave her all but there was no cure for her mother’s illness.  She became the orphan, as she had always feared.  In Kate’s arms, though, she found that she would not be alone, that she would be leaving town with her.  And Kate had already made her first maternal commitment as she repaid Dragus for what he had forced upon Hillary. 

Noonan’s has placed us back into the late 1890’s with a tale that is well written and historically significant. When I received the manuscript for review, I was told by the author, “Follow the Children.”  Indeed, you not only will follow them, but you will become involved and concerned about their lives.  Robert Noonan, as a first-time author, has presented us with a gift. We may not enjoy reading about some of the challenges they faced, but it is important that we learn of them. We should also be reminded that there are always good people who move in to assist and love those in need. 

Look for this must-read as a keeper for your historical fiction library! 

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