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Friday, December 13, 2019

Despite Rich Subject Material, Historical Orphan Novel a Long, Preachy Slog

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In turn-of-the-century London, many families are struggling to make ends meet.  After the death of their main breadwinner, the McAlisters are only a few thin coins away from the poorhouse.  To help provide for her mother and three younger siblings, 21-year-old Laura McAlister works as a lady's maid at a posh estate an hour away from the city.  When she learns her mother has been hospitalized with a grave illness, she resigns her position and hurries home—only to find that her brother and sisters have already been turned out of their home and taken to an orphanage.  Desperate to rescue her siblings, Laura makes every attempt to free them, only to find they won't be released unless she can pay a large amount of money.  Knowing hundreds of orphaned British children are regularly being shipped off to Canada, whether they're truly parentless or not, Laura is frantic with worry.  With no way to make the kind of cash she needs, she makes the drastic choice to join the staff of the orphanage using a false identity in the hopes of sneaking her siblings away in the night. 

When Andrew Frasier, the son of Laura's former employer, discovers Laura's ruse, she's terrified the gig is up.  Surprisingly, he joins her in her quest to not just find her brother and sisters, but also to save children like them from being shipped overseas against their will.  Can the duo find Laura's siblings in time?  Or will her deceit be brought to light, cutting off her last chance to save them? 

I've read plenty of books about orphanages, orphan trains, and early versions of foster care in the United States, but I had no idea that England sent more than 100,000 poor and abandoned children to Canada between the years 1869 and 1939.  Those who received them, be it as adopted children or household servants, were assured the kids had been orphaned.  Was that true in every case?  Undoubtedly not.  

As a way to explore this question and bring light to the plight of the children who were sent to Canada, where many were overworked and abused, Carrie Turansky penned No Ocean Too Wide.  Although the McAlister Family is fictional, the made-up characters represent the real kids who endured mistreatment at the hands of the adults who exploited them.  Turansky handles the horrors of the situation gently, but the book's based-on-true-events background is heartbreaking nonetheless.  With such a rich subject to draw on, it's unfortunate that No Ocean Too Wide features blah, underdeveloped characters and a very slow-moving plot.  Written as a Christian novel, it's also quite heavy-handed in the religion department.  All of these things made the book feel like a long, preachy slog.  While I found the subject of the novel fascinating, I had a hard time getting through it.  Needless to say, I'm not going to bother with its forthcoming sequels. 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of No Ocean Too Wide from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.


  1. It's such a fascinating subject...too bad the author turned it into a slow-moving and preachy slog. :(

  2. I’m sorry this isn’t better written. It’s a compelling subject.


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