The Girls With No Names by Serena Burdick takes place in 1913 New York City. This was a time when women were mostly powerless. Several homes for wayward women were established. The women could be placed in the homes either by a court order or by a parent. Once locked inside, they were prisoners forced to do daily strenuous labor, including laundry and farm work, while the religious institutions that housed them made a fortune.
Effie Tildon, age 13, and her older sister Louella came from a wealthy family that lived not far from the House of Mercy, a workhouse that actually existed in New York City. Their father had once threatened to put the girls in the House of Mercy if they misbehaved. Louella convinces Effie to go with her to a camp of Romani people knowing that their parents did not approve. When Mr. Tildon’s philandering becomes obvious, Louella gets fed up with her father for his conduct and with her mother for not doing anything about it. She continues to visit the gypsy camp as often as possible. She loses interest in ballet, her former passion. One day Louella suddenly disappears. Effie, who has a congenital heart defect, believes that Louella has been sent to the House of Mercy. Without her parents’ knowledge, she manages to get herself admitted to the House of Mercy under a false name. Only Louella isn’t there and Effie can’t get out. Effie’s heart condition worsens, bringing her closer to death.
While imprisoned, Effie becomes entangled with another girl who calls herself Mabel. Mabel’s story of poverty and ignorance is then revealed to the reader. Her upbringing and subsequent crime were a startling contrast to Effie’s pampered life. There is also a third narrator, Effie’s mother Jean, who gives her backstory and provides insight into Louella’s disappearance. The novel is an interesting study of women, class, and society during the early 1900s.
4-Stars. I listened to the Harlequin Audio version which was nicely narrated by the women who were the characters of Effie, Mabel, and Jean. This novel was published on January 7, 2020. The audiobook is 12 hours and 24 minutes and thankfully includes the author’s notes. The paperback is 336 pages.